FlixChatter Review: ANNETTE (2021)

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What a roller coaster ride it has been doing an Adam Driver marathon of sort. I had just watched four of his films last month for the Hidden Gems series, which I had decided before I got a press screening for ANNETTE last week. Well in a way, the absolute bizarrity of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote ends up serving as a pre-req for Annette. It’s interesting that before the film starts, we’ve got a VO of its director Leos Carax telling the audience to hold our breath until the end of the movie. Well, there were a few times I did hold my breath watching this movie.

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It’s been four days since I saw it and let’s just say I’m still recovering from it, ahah. I guess nothing could really prepare you for this rock opera written by the Sparks Brothers. Ok now, even that info alone should tell you this isn’t a movie you watch for its strong narrative. Its primary strengths are its visual style and the catchy songs. I LOVE So May We Start in its opening sequence, starting with Carax and the Sparks with their band in a studio, then they step out the room, meeting the main actors of the movie and the entire group sing the song together as they walk out into the street. That’s such a surreal scene unlike anything I’ve ever seen, which is what you could say about the entire movie.

We’ve fashioned a world, a world built just for you
A tale of songs and fury with no taboo
We’ll sing and die for you, yes, in minor keys
And if you want us to kill too we may agree

That’s just some of the lyrics from the opening song… so don’t say the filmmakers didn’t warn you. When it first came out in Cannes, Twitter was set alight by critics describing a character performing cunnilingus while singing a love song. Well believe it or not, it’s actually NOT the most bizarre thing in this movie.

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The basic plot is that we’ve got a celebrity couple, a stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (Driver) and an opera singer Ann Desfranoux (Marion Cotillard) who falls head over heels in love. Their career trajectory changes course as the film progresses and the birth of their daughter turns their lives into a tailspin. The film’s title is named after their daughter who has a special gift… I’m not going to spoil it for you what her gift is, but what’s quite unnerving to behold is Carax chose to use a puppet for the baby. For someone with a strong aversion for dolls/puppets in general, it took me a while to adjust to that fact, but thankfully there are plenty of things to distract me from it, most notably Adam Driver’s tour de force performance.

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In my post about Annette here, some critics talked about Driver’s towering, imposing physicality being used to great effect in this film. That turns out to be absolutely true. Though billed as a bizarre love story, this is pretty much an Adam Driver show from start to finish and he capably carries this film on his strong shoulders. Carax is known for his grand but strange vision for his films and Driver is willing to match his insane cinematic choices, which I shouldn’t be surprised given he did exactly that for Terry Gilliam. As Henry, his dry sense of humor, sheer rage, magnetic charisma and intensity are in full display here, at times in extreme close-ups. His character preps with boxing regimen in his hooded robe which is quite strange for a comedian, but perhaps that explains why his acts are so militant and physical. Most people have seen how intense he could be as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars trilogy, but given he’s under a mask for most of the trilogy, I feel like you’re robbed off just how insane he’s willing to go for a role.

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Annette feels more like an experimental film at times, but it also feels personal in its depiction of love and loss. I find it hard for me to delve into this film’s plot as even after days watching it, I can’t quite put a finger on it what it’s about. Driver’s Henry–nicknamed ‘the ape of God’– is such a provocative performer who depicts the quintessential toxic masculinity, complete with a Me-Too chorus of women accusing him of various misbehaviors. But even from his stand-up acts where he doesn’t so much deliver jokes but throw lines at the audience to react to, it’s clear he’s got issues. Though both Henry and Ann are performers, the stark difference is that Henry seems to put a lot of himself into his show while Cotillard’s Ann is the opposite. She wears a wig when portraying a larger-than-life persona in her play where she dies at the end of each show. The theme of death ends up spilling over from their stage persona into real life… well, as ‘real’ as it seems in this film given the blurred line between fantasy and reality.

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Despite Driver’s long screen time in the movie (he’s pretty much on screen at least 95% of the time), I don’t really get his character. I’m not sure the filmmakers intend it to be a character study, but at least Driver has an arc as Cotillard’s and Simon Helberg’s the conductor character barely has any. Both have their moments in the movie, but for the most part I feel like their characters are only there to move Henry’s story forward. It’s quite frustrating and such a pity given how talented both actors are. Heck, what living breathing performers want to be upstaged by a puppet baby? Yet that’s what happens here, especially the huge scene towards the end that made me gasp. The ending is as puzzling as ever as it feels anticlimactic. My friend sitting next to me raises both hands as the screen turns to black and said ‘that’s it?!’ Perhaps the filmmakers intend things to be one big giant puzzle, but perhaps they just didn’t know how to end the film.

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In terms of visuals, Annette is gorgeous to look at, shot by French DP Caroline Champetier, it has a neon green/blue tone similar to Holy Motors that she also shot. As to be expected in a musical, the songs are memorable and have such an infectious energy to them. So May We Start and We Love Each Other So Much are still stuck in my head to this day. One thing for sure though, the film’s sheer grandiosity, extreme absurdity and off-kilter sensibilities will likely make this one of the most divisive movies of recent memory. Like Holy Motors, Carax’s distinctive styles are not for everyone. It’s long running time (140 minutes) and odd pacing also doesn’t make this the easiest film to recommend to others.

For me personally, despite some of my biggest quibbles, I had a good time with it. I feel like I don’t have to fully understand something to appreciate it. Just like an art in a museum/gallery, I often have no clue what it means or why it’s constructed in such a way, but it can still be absolutely mesmerizing.

3.5/5 Reels


Have you seen ANNETTE? I’d love to hear what you think!

Hidden Gems: Adam Driver

This post is a few days late as I had planned on posting this on the last day of July, but oh well, work and life tends to get in the way.

This Hidden Gems series was spearheaded by Mettel Ray, and you can read more info about it here. I’m not sure I’ll be able to participate again this month, so this is actually July’s edition as I watched the movies all last month. It’s definitely a great series to explore an actor’s filmography and try to find the hidden gems from the list.

 

 

WHY ADAM DRIVER?

I’ve been a longtime admirer of Driver as I’ve always enjoyed everything he’s in, even in small parts. Yet there are still a bunch of movies I haven’t seen that I should catch up on. He’s worked with a ton of interesting directors and has a diverse and eclectic mix of films in his resume that only continue to get more interesting as he’s become more and more sought after by various filmmakers. Well, given I’ll be seeing ANNETTE tomorrow night, he’s been on my mind even more!

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STATISTICS

Instead of using Letterboxd, I’m using IMDb for stats. There are 48 credits listed under his profile, but I excluded TV series, shorts, video games, etc. as well as films that have not been released yet and that left roughly 27 films. That is quite a feat for this Juilliard grad who just got his big break in feature films only 10 years ago in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar in a small supporting role.

The first time I saw him was Inside Llewyn Davis in 2013, since then I’ve seen Driver in these films: Midnight Special, While We’re Young, Logan Lucky, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, BlacKkKlansman, Marriage Story, and The Report.

For the Hidden Gems challenge, I chose four off-the-beaten-path movies:

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)

What If (2013)

Paterson (2016)

Tracks (2013)

Here are my picks of hidden gems:

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)

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I knew this is going to be a strange movie given it’s by Terry Gilliam and the project has been stuck in development hell for ages! There’s even a documentary about Gilliam’s first attempt to bring this movie to life called Lost in La Mancha. The story is loosely based on the 1605/1615 novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Adam Driver plays a cynical but supposedly genius film director who’s shooting a commercial in Spain and stumbles upon a DVD of a student film he made there a decade ago about Don Quixote.

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Unbeknownst to him, that little film changed this small Spanish village forever, especially one shoemaker with delusions of grandeur thinking he is actually Don Quixote (Jonathan Pryce).

Like most Gilliam’s movies, it’s definitely not for everyone but I quite enjoyed all the surreal, bizarre and plain weird-ness of it all. Driver is definitely the main reason to see this for me, he’s got such a magnetic presence throughout this mad adventure, being practically put through the wringer in a pretty physical role. He’s able to balance the drama and comedy the role requires and pulls it off with aplomb.

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I particularly enjoy the scenes at the cruel oligarch Alexei Miiskin’s mansion where the craziest stuff happens. At times it’s hard to discern which part is in real and which are just in the characters’ heads, which can be amusing as well as frustrating. The visuals are wonderful though, so I highly recommend this for fans of Driver or those who can appreciate Gilliams’ imaginative and peculiar vision.

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3.5/5 Reels


Paterson (2016)

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I’ve actually been wanting to see this even long before I was crushing hard on Driver. The idea of a low-key bus driver who secretly writes poetry immediately appeals to me. Described as a quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details, the film delivers exactly that… and it’s mesmerizing.

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Paterson wakes up every morning next to his wife in their small, modest home in Paterson, New Jersey, has his cereal breakfast and goes to work as a bus driver. It’s a regimented life but the routine is charming and captivating, not at all tedious.

I love how director Jim Jarmusch incorporates his own poetry in the film, as well as those by William Carlos Williams and Ron Padgett, and makes the words come alive. There’s something so poetic in the simplicity of the lives depicted here. Paterson thinks of poetry all the time, mainly while he’s driving the bus and observing his passengers day in and day out.

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I was also fascinated by his artistic wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and his adorable English bulldog Marvin. There’s such beauty in contemplation, quietness and serenity, a sweet celebration of life’s small joys and even its oddity. Apparently Jarmusch intended Paterson to be an antidote to the modern action film and it’s truly a welcome respite.

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4.5/5 stars


Tracks (2013)

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I love adventure road movies like this one, and it’s especially fascinating as it’s based on a true story. An adaptation of Robyn Davidson‘s memoir of the same name, its film development began even before lead actress Mia Wasikowska was even born, with Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman considering the project. I’m glad Mia ends up doing this film as she perfectly embodies the role in such an authentic way.

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The movie chronicles Robyn’s nine-month journey on camels across the Australian desert in 1977. She sets out from Alice Springs, trekking across 1,700 miles of Western Australia desert to reach the Indian ocean. Driver portrays National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan who documents her journey. He isn’t in the movie very much but his character is integral in the story and he’s totally believable in the role.

The relationship between Robyn and Rick isn’t exactly romantic and at times she’s standoffish towards him, which is understandable considering her fiercely independent nature. At times Rick can be rather off-putting and perhaps even intrusive in the way he tries to cover Robyn’s story. 

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I highly recommend this movie for those looking for a quietly mesmerizing, soulful movie to take a break from the usual Hollywood offerings. Directed by John Curran, the visuals of the Australian dessert is absolutely breathtaking but it also shows the harsh and brutal climate. It’s inspiring to see anyone, let alone a young woman, accomplish what Robyn did, which made me curious to check out her book.

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3.5/5 Reels


Final Thoughts: 

I’m really glad I was able to found 3 gems out of just the 4 films I saw. I really wanted to see Hungry Hearts but that one is a bit harder to find, but hopefully I can see that soon. What If is actually ok but despite its intriguing premise and charming performances, I find the ending rather clichéd and predictable. Driver isn’t in it very much anyway, so I wish I had picked a different movie. 

As for this Hidden Gem challenge, I’m glad I’m able to participate at least once this year, now I’m trying to think who else would make a good topic/subject for future series.


 

Have you seen any of these Adam Driver movie(s)? Let me know what you think! 

Dreaming of Cannes – Musings on Leos Carax’s ANNETTE … and Adam Driver

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Given the Cannes Film Festival was canceled last year, the 2021’s ceremony’s red carpet returns with an extra dose of glamor. I was listening to NPR’s French correspondent Eleanor Beardsley in the car yesterday and wish I were at Promenade de la Croisette or somewhere on Côte d’Azur this week, especially after seeing this clip…


Ok so um, what I’m most looking forward to out of the Cannes lineup is Leos Carax’s ANNETTE! I’ve been wanting to blog about it since the trailer came out, but somehow never got around to it. Well now that it’s premiered at Cannes, I simply must post about it now… and really, as if I need an excuse to talk about Adam Driver 😍


So what is ANNETTE about exactly? Here’s the logline:

A globally acclaimed opera singer and a stand-up comedian have their first child, and their lives are completely changed.

I’m not hugely familiar with Carax’s work, but I did enjoy his HOLY MOTORS which I reviewed here. It’s offbeat and imaginative, parts of me are weird-ed out by it, even terrified at times, but also mesmerized at the same time. I have a feeling ANNETTE will be in similar vein, except that it has a pair of actors I adore: Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Check out the trailer if you haven’t already:

It’s got to be the year of the Sparks! Their documentary The Sparks Brothers was just released recently (read my friend Vince’s review), and apparently Ron + Russell Mael wrote this musical as well and that there’s no dialogue in this movie, it’s a complete sung-through musical.

In this EW article, Ron Mael revealed their longtime interest to get into movies:

“We’ve been trying over the years to do a movie musical… We had worked briefly with Jacques Tati in the middle ’70s and then we worked with Tim Burton in the early ’90s. These projects only led to super disappointment. The fact that Annette has actually happened and is the opening night film at Cannes is absolutely surreal. We couldn’t be more pleased. The cast is kind of ridiculous with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. I think people will be surprised because it’s not a movie musical in the way that people conceive of a movie musical. Without sounding too arrogant about it, I think it really is a new form for movie musicals. We’re just so proud of it and the job that Leos Carax did.”

The Sparks just released this new single So May We Start from the movie, featuring vocals from the band, Driver, Cotillard and cast member Simon Helberg. Take a listen:

I’m even more excited for this as I LOVE Driver’s singing (albeit briefly) in Marriage Story! Cotillard has won an Oscar playing singer Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose so obviously she too can sing! Originally Rooney Mara was cast but dropped out, then Michelle Williams replaced her but also left the project when it got stuck in development, then Cotillard stepped in. Seeing her with short hair here made me think of Audrey Tautou who might be suitable for this offbeat material, but not sure if she can sing.

The visuals look amazing based on some of the stills I’m seeing so far!

Now, I enjoy musicals but I generally prefer musicals where not every single line is sung. I actually haven’t seen Les Misérables in its entirety for that reason, despite loving the stage version I happen to see live on Broadway. But hey, I’m willing to keep an open mind about this one because of all the talents involved.

Here’s a clip from the movie:

I briefly scanned a few critics’ reviews out of Cannes and unsurprisingly the reaction has been mixed, though it  currently stands at 90% with just 21 reviews. I feel like films like this are more acquired taste given its inherently kooky style + bizarre premise.

I have to be honest that Adam Driver is the main um, drive for me to see this, hopefully on the big screen. This Vulture reviewer says, “Driver, such a physically imposing, intense, glowering presence, is inspired casting here…” This BBC review also praised Driver’s performance: “It’s hard to imagine that any other actor would or could play his role.… Driver has become the patron saint of oddball indie projects that premiere at Cannes. His glowering, fearsomely physical performance here is a tour de force.” While LA Times critic Justin Chang remarked “… the movie belongs to Driver… who has rarely appeared more imposing in his physicality, more bottomless in his capacity for rage and deceit.” He also calls the movie ‘entrancingly weird’ and that actually makes me want to see it more!

Well, the rest of us would have to wait until August to see this. It’ll be released in U.S. theatres on August 6 and will have its streaming debuts on Amazon Prime on August 20.


So are you excited for ANNETTE? Which films released at Cannes are you most looking forward to?