Today: a guest post from my Best Good Friend! If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll have seen mention of this exceptional human from time to time, my dearest friend in all the world, my ride or die, sibling of my heart, whom I have known and been perpetually awe-struck and inspired by for over twenty years now.
I am so pleased for many reasons that they have written this review to share with us, but mainly because one: I love their writing and I would love to see more of it (hint, hint, BGF!) and two: I love Love LOVE hearing about people’s passions and obsessions.
There are not many full-length reviews here at Unquiet Things and there is an appalling lack of Adam Driver-related content, but who knows, perhaps this could be the start of something! I don’t know what exactly. Don’t hold me to anything.
Anyway…take it away, BGF…!
It took 48 hours since I first experienced the fever dream of Annette to process it, to try and divine and parse my feelings and eke out a feeble attempt at committing words to virtual paper. But at the very least, before all else, a word of warning: Annette is not for everyone.
So, may we start?
This is a movie that I have been waiting to see for far too long. Over nine years in the making, it is my Holy Trinity of what most consider, in the kindest of terms, odd: written and composed by cult art band Sparks, directed by chain-smoking Frenchman Leos Carax, and starring Adam Driver: Fathers, Son, and Holy Adam. These are my biases. In my mind, it was to be a damn near religious experience of innate weirdness.
I have read many reviews by now, both before and after watching this film, and have been met with an inevitable divide spanning adoration to vitriol. The best commend Driver for his performance, most try to liken it to La La Land and A Star is Born, the bad force it through a woke lens of social media-friendly commentary, and at absolute worst, a mere rant of a middle-aged man who worked at Fox News for 10 years – I wouldn’t deign to call that drivel a review though.
But the wide range of divisive reviews illustrates this one common idea: this movie is not for everyone. And the more I try to explain it, try to prepare people for it, the more it feels like I am one of those snooty l’artistes gatekeeping a precious masterpiece of intellectual creation blah blah blah – almost trying to convince them not to watch it. So far, it has only emboldened people to want to see it all the more, yet bearing the expected and inevitable mixed results. Please believe me when I say with deep sincerity that I have only the utmost of good intentions. I want people to love this movie, but I know that most simply won’t. And that’s OK. But I have this misguided sense of duty to the Holy Trinity to tell a friend or strangers to see this film. Please ignore the fact that the movie literally asks the audience to do so as the credits roll.
If you haven’t heard of the band Sparks, have no idea what lurks in the band’s 50 years of bubbling just beneath the surface of mainstream pop culture musical journey, this musical may not be for you.
If you have never heard of Leos Carax, have no reference for French arthouse cinema, this film may not be for you.
If you are only familiar with Adam Driver’s more mainstream work, content to fill your fantasies with Saturday Night Live skits and lamenting the loss of Ben Solo (both of which I am excruciatingly guilty of), this experience may not be for you.
At the very least, one should prepare themselves by watching Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers, (which gives a good primer of what the music of Sparks is all about, without really telling you anything about Sparks at the same time), Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, to get a sense of the director’s style, and Adam Driver in… well, anything. Because it’s Adam fucking Driver.
Without any understanding of these things, there is a good chance you may not enjoy this movie. I suspect this was the case for the man who made a show of leaving barely halfway through the spectacle.
It’s risky to go into something like this with no context. If your tastes live solely in the mainstream (and there is nothing wrong with that!) you may find yourself armed only with references to current culture, and that would only be scratching the surface. And anyway, not everything needs to be dismantled through the lens of current events.
To blatantly steal one of the myriad text message conversations with one of my favorite wordsmiths and owner of this delightful blog (another bias I admit), “I think when writers are struggling to make sense of something they try and find an angle, and a lot of times that angle is how does this relate to people right now. I feel like current events might be the lazy way to go about it though.”
That said, there is a certain thrill to running headlong into something with no real context, or perhaps just an inkling of interest, enough to compel you into a theater in the middle of a pandemic. It is an achingly arduous feeling to have expectations completely subverted if not utterly destroyed into a beautiful mess. As one viewing companion noted, “It is an unpleasant thing to watch. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Said companion only had me as their guide, and I wantonly led them blindly into the A – B – Y – S – S, mostly for my own twisted pleasure of watching them watch the movie.
For those whose only draw to this movie is the raging force that is Adam Driver, there is plenty to slake your thirst. Driver spends a good amount of time in various states of undress, if that’s what you need. But you may find yourself curling in cringe as you watch your crush writhe maniacally on the ground, telling tasteless “jokes” as he jaunts across the stage in a garish green bathrobe and underwear, or pantomime tickling feet with his tongue. His commitment to the role is what truly shines, as expected, and his uncanny ability to at best make you sympathize with the devil, and at worst, relate to him, is unsettling and masterful.
Sure, there are other players in this sinful saga, each delivering powerful performances of their own: Simon Helberg’s depiction of The Conductor was a breakthrough moment, Marion Cotillard delivers the most realistic depiction of someone using a toilet while singing and smoking, and the gut-punching performance of young Devyn McDowell, who goes toe-to-toe with Driver, chewing the scene and Driver’s character up before spitting them out in a cathartic and harrowing harmonic release. But this is very much Adam Driver’s film.
For those whose interest is sparked by Sparks, I suspect there to be a split among you as well, as only hardcore fans claim to appreciate every twist and turn of their musical oeuvre from glam rock to glorious 80s synth-drenched pop to orchestral chant, and everything in-between. This is probably Sparks’ darkest musical foray, where several times during my initial viewing I found myself wondering, “who hurt the Mael brothers?” But their ironically literal humor and penchant for repetition is not lost.
The movie’s opening song lays out exactly what is to come. There’s singing and dying in minor keys, and yes, they’ll kill for you. Over and over again. It sets the stage, reminding you that none of this is real. These are actors putting on a show for you, a show in which the director not so kindly advises you to not react at all during the movie, and hold your breath until the end. Oh, and don’t fart.
Throughout the film it is difficult to reach any semblance of suspension of disbelief, it is all too surreal and yet NOT surreal enough. Somehow, the series of mechanical puppets depicting the title character of Annette and coital crooning just makes sense. It is a difficult film to reach into and break through. Seemingly nearly impossible to relate to, but daring you to try. It can feel as though it’s dancing on the razor’s edge of SNL satire, avant-garde cinema, terrifying reality, and sheer ridiculousness. At times it feels downright indulgent. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. It is a black mirror, reflecting the viewer’s own experiences.
At the surface, it is a convoluted social commentary of an age-old Hollywood story of star-crossed lovers, celebrity gossip, exploitation, abuse, toxic masculinity, the list goes on – take your pick.
If you dare to dive deeper. you may just find yourself dismantling your existential existence to the core if you let it. In one scene, Adam’s character Henry McHenry breaks the fourth wall after muttering that he must never cast his eyes towards the abyss before looking directly to the camera, and straight into your soul, as he scrutinizes his audience, finally murmuring “Lady, that’s quite an abyss you’ve got.”
As much as the story unfolds itself to you, it also leaves it up to you to synthesize and decode it. Did that really happen, or was it just a twisted fantasy? Who was this film made for? Why can’t I get these songs out of my head? Am I really turned on right now? Why did he become a comedian? Why do I hate myself so much? What’s your fucking problem?
This is where the true beauty of Annette can be found, and one that has so far been missed in every review I’ve read: it will give you as much as you’re willing to take, a choose-your-own-adventure of emotional exploration. There is no wrong way to view this film, even through the lens of disdain. Because as much as people love to debate art, and well, everything, it is my humble opinion that what makes art great is whatever moves you, in any way – if you have a reaction to it, if it makes you think about it, makes you feel something.
And if you’re open to exploring those feelings, great art can tell you a lot about yourself. If we can find any way at all to relate to Henry McHenry, it’s that we will be haunted day after day after day.
So I take back what I said earlier. If it was only one of the Holy Trinity to lure you in, or even none at all, Annette is something I believe everyone should experience, at least once, and I suspect most will get that chance when it hits the courtroom of America’s consciousness via Amazon Prime on August 20.
Annette, like all art, should be for everyone. But that’s wholly up to you to decide if you’re ready to cast your eyes upon the abyss.
Watch the trailer for Annette here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Speaking of Sparks, I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite Sparks songs and albums. Their genre-defying career will surely offer something for everyone to discover and love. It’s difficult to curate a concise list, as I’m one of those fans who has never met a Sparks song I didn’t like, if not love. But if this is to be your introduction to the band, there’s perhaps no better place to start than a couple of their most popular and accessible tomes:
Kimono My House
The energy on this album is solid throughout. It’s fun and endearing and will have you belting along with each note with unbridled glee.
Earworm: Amateur Hour
No. 1 in Heaven
This electronic masterpiece was produced by the legendary Giorgio Moroder, otherwise known as the “Father of Disco.” You may think disco sucks, but I dare you to deny the infectious grooves and cheeky lyrics.
Earworm: La Dolce Vita
With hundreds of songs to choose from, it would be impossible to choose even a top 10. But I can, at the very least, share those songs that I always come back to time and time again. And I do so with no context.
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgakpSoHEiE
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5jtqCo43WM
When I’m With You
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVTH7OsNbhs
When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8dqCQ2MHfQ
What the Hell Is It This Time?
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC0rzv1j8Zc
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TH5USLpPa_0
And finally, I humbly submit some of my favorite songs from Annette, and I warn you not to listen to them until you’ve seen the film, as it will spoil it for you. Sadly, the released soundtrack is only a selection of songs, and some favorites are woefully missing. Here’s hoping a more complete collection will be released in the future. It’s also worth noting that the versions that appear on the soundtrack are different than what you hear in the movie. The soundtrack is of course produced and recorded in a studio, while the movie was recorded live on set.
So, May We Start?
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWb3KpvAz8s
Stepping Back In Time
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY9tuKQGoKw
Sympathy for the Abyss
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTgMxiJtrtY