The new Sparks musical film, Annette, requires a trigger warning because Adam Driver portrays an emotionally abusive comedian.
The gist of the film is that Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) falls in love with a renowned opera singer, Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard). The two of them tie the knot and have a kid, Annette. Annette’s birth changes everything–Henry starts to crash and burn while Ann keeps flying high. If there’s a dictionary definition for odd couples, you’ll probably find Henry and Ann in the top ten. While they get attention from the paparazzi, their relationship is upsetting for The Accompanist (Simon Helberg), a future conductor in his own right. It isn’t long before Henry exploits Annette for his own gain and he won’t let anyone stand in his way to make it happen.
I knew going into the film that Driver was playing a comedian. What I did not realize was that Henry McHenry is an emotionally abusive comedian. This is not something that gets pointed out in the film’s short synopsis, only the long synopsis which the average film goer never sees. Having spoken out against abuse in the industry, it would be wrong for me to not say something here. That the abuse is a plot point driving the film forward just leaves a sour feeling. It’s not an easy watch in that regard even with the almost two and a half hour run time. Oh, news flash, there’s a sequence that runs during the credits so you can’t just get up and leave. This is just the least of the film’s issues.
Driver isn’t Jewish and while the Maels are of Jewish descent (this didn’t come up during the documentary), these jokes don’t work well when spoken by non-Jews. “Everybody hates the Jews” is one that comes while McHenry is joking about religions. I’ve spent this summer fighting back against antisemitism–can I just have a movie where there are not any jokes of this nature? The other one comes when he talks about the smoke being like getting a blow job in a gas chamber. Can we NOT with the gas chamber jokes? Holocaust humor is taboo but there’s a fine line if you’re going to go that route. Leave the Jewish jokes to the Jews, thanks!
I noticed during the credits that Driver thanked both Chris Rock and Bill Burr. I have nothing against whatever Chris Rock did to help Adam play a stand-up comedian. No, the trouble comes with Bill Burr and it’s the same reason why I had issues with him playing Mayfield on The Mandalorian. See here and here on why Burr is problematic as far as comedians are concerned. His history with transphobic and homophobic humor is a problem.
As if the Holocaust humor alone isn’t enough to take one out of the film, they go with the creepiest way ever of avoiding child labor laws. The filmmakers opt for a puppet to play Annette rather than an actual kid. Given the film’s plot, I can fully understand why they went in this direction. It doesn’t make the design any less creepy.
I’m not denying the fact that there are certainly some stylish things that people will enjoy while watching Annette. There’s just too much else going on that will just take viewers out of the film. Annette is one of the most polarizing films of the year. I found my experience to be loathsome at best.
DIRECTOR: Leos Carax
SCREENWRITERS: Ron Mael & Russell Mael
CAST: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg