Creative Sparks

The movie musical is looking to make a comeback this year. Already, we’ve seen the release of In the Heights and the Apple TV+ parody Schmigadoon! Soon, there will be Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Dear Evan Hansen and Spielberg’s take on West Side Story. But you can bet that none of them will come close to Leos Carax’s Annette for originality or strangeness.

The French director behind Holy Motors (2012) and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991) is well known for his idiosyncratic stylings and this musical is no different. The songs have been written by Ron and Russell Maels, aka Sparks, the American pop/rock duo that were recently the subject of Edgar Wright’s new documentary The Sparks Brothers. Originally, they planned to tour with the songs, but Carax’s interest turned the project into a movie.

Almost entirely sung through, with little in the way of dialogue, the story follows a rather aggressive stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) as he recounts to his sycophantic fans how he’s fallen in love with angelic opera singer Ann Defransnoux (Marion Cotillard). At first, they are crazy about each other, but Henry’s jealous fits and their relationship playing out in the public eye soon cause dramas. Not even the arrival of their newborn Annette can placate him.

Featuring The Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg as the pianist who is a secret admirer of Ann’s, Annette’s strongest element by far is the songs by the Maels brothers. Beginning with ‘So May We Start’, a rather meta-construct that sees Carax and the actors on screen as they get into character in a triumphant march through the Los Angeles streets, the music is very memorable and distinct. You’ll be adding them to your Spotify playlist for sure.

Carax’s visuals – especially for a scene where Henry and Ann are all at sea – are typically beguiling, and the appearance of Annette (no spoilers here) only adds to the air of strangeness about the film. Sadly, Driver’s performance almost threatens to destabilise everything. It’s hard to fully buy into this successful stand-up whose act is so utterly unfunny. This aside, Annette is a film you’ll want to sing about from the rooftops.

Annette is available in cinemas from 3 September. For more details, click here.

James Mottram