“Annette” and the lost Hollywood musical
If you’ve been waiting to see Adam Driver burst out a musical number while giving oral sex, director Leos Carax’s new wild creation “Annette” is right up your alley. The less that is known about this insanely original musical’s plot before you watch it, the better. “Annette” recently had its premiere at Cannes, where it won the award for Best Director. Starring Driver alongside Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg, with a screenplay and songs written by Ron and Russell Mael of The Sparks, this is a film that swings for the fences and doesn’t care who gets lost along the way. I love it. For its ambition, for the visceral nature of Carax’s direction of the musical numbers and for the dark humor and tragedy of it all, “Annette” is a wonderful creation all around.
The brilliant performances help drive Carax’s brilliantly hypnotic vision, with Adam Driver’s lead role as Henry, a stand-up comedian, offering Driver his most meaty — and frankly best — performance to date. Driver gives Henry a demeaning sense of authority; a violent and terrifying attitude through the way he commands every scene, but also a sense of cowardliness underneath what he puts out to the world. In some earlier scenes where we watch Driver perform stand-up, we get a true sense of Henry’s physicality and controlling nature that finds its way into his marriage with Ann, portrayed by Oscar-winner (for “La Vie en Rose”) Marion Cotillard. Ann is an opera singer who possesses a heavenly voice. The dramatic and sensational nature of her performance within the film mirrors not only her relationship with Henry, but the very structure of the film’s opera-like musicality as a whole. Then we have Simon Helberg as The Accompanist who, in my opinion, is the standout of the cast. His role is definitely supporting, but even with limited screen time, he manages to make a terrific impression in a funny but also deeply sad and heartfelt turn.
Truthfully, the Hollywood-movie-musical-type is not the award and box office darling it once was. The age of the Technicolor of “Singin’ in the Rain” and the grand, beautiful scale of “An American in Paris” has since fallen out of place. Sure, once in a while we’ll have a “La La Land” level hit that reminds Oscar voters and audiences of the pure magic of musicals, but that is the exception. Today’s audiences crave something different; musicals are often seen as childish, or something of a different era entirely. But why can’t musicals be deep?
“Annette,” as much as film enthusiasts like me sing its praises, is not going to suddenly revive the musical genre — its audience is extremely niche, and its award chances are slim, to say the least. Regardless, “Annette” remains a testament to the beauty of what the musical genre can be used to invoke; the film’s musicality and the scale of its musical numbers allows us to feel the pure power of such a tremulous marriage, the dangerous lengths that someone may go to for anger and revenge and the love that carries through, even when the world is all but gone.
Matt Minton is a first year writing for film, tv and emerging media major who has faith in the triumphant return of the Hollywood-movie-musical. They can be reached at [email protected].