This week’s Guest Star Dylan Garsee writes about Annette (2021)!
Won’t someone think of the arthouse film? As the theatrical experience is whittled down with the chainsaw that is COVID and the vast Sahara of streaming media, the small but mighty pillar of the movie-going experience is facing a crisis.
I’m not talking about a box office crisis– that’s literally every movie, have you even looked outside lately? Nor am I talking about every arthouse movie– A24’s The Green Knight is this summer’s critical success and more than made back its budget at the box office. I‘m specifically talking about a little misunderstood arthouse musical that is currently flopping across our fine nation. I am, of course, talking about Annette. (Trailer here).
Leos Carax’s latest film, a quasi-musical co-penned with art pop pranksters Sparks, could be read as a contemplation of fame, jealousy, and the dangers of living vicariously through a loved one. Or, if you’re cool, you could read it as a movie about a singing puppet baby who gets airlifted by drones and dropped onto a fake mountain in the middle of (Not The) Super Bowl™.
Annette has made $2.5 million against a $15 million budget and received okay reviews, with some critics considering the film’s approach to be nothing more than “meaningless bloat.” At my screening, people walked out and my husband thought it was the stupidest movie he’s ever seen. I’m here to tell the world that not only is this movie a masterpiece, but y’all are also wrong.
In Annette, Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard are a power couple comprising an edgy stand-up comic and an opera singer, respectively. Eventually they conceive a daughter, Annette, who happens to be a puppet. I don’t mean that in any metaphorical sense– I mean an actual stiff, Pinocchio ass, wooden doll. The fact that Annette is a puppet is never commented upon, referenced, or explained.
Baby Annette offers up a stiff performance
Eventually “Baby Annette,” as she comes to be known, achieves international fame as a singer. Meanwhile, Cotillard is murdered on a boat and becomes an undead sea witch, The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg shows up as a conductor cum romantic rival until he is drowned, and Adam Driver ends the film looking like he got black market cheek implants in prison.
In case that paragraph didn’t make it clear, this movie is a fucking laugh riot.
Yet that aspect of the film’s tone has been downplayed in both the positive and negative reviews of the film. Why is this the case? It seems likely it’s because arthouse fare is taken overly seriously– every frame of a new buzzworthy art film is dissected and fussed over as though every viewer is forcibly entered upon entry into film school and every work they witness must be the second coming of La Strada. On the rare occasions when a comedic film is released to the arthouse crowd, it’s either targeted to the matinee retirees who still call the theater for showtimes (Philomena, The Lady in the Van), or Europhile weirdos who don’t buy IKEA furniture but know how to pronounce it (Toni Erdmann, The Square).
But Annette is both and neither. It’s a musical that tackles similar themes to Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, some of our most Old People™ movies. However it’s very European fare, as directed by Carax, who previously directed Holy Motors, the most annoying person at a dinner party you know’s (and mine) favorite film of the Aughts.
Whatever the opposite of cinema verite is, that’s Annette
At my screening, my friend Nick Hanover and I were the only people laughing at what is VERY CLEARLY meant to be laughed at scenes, like whenever Annette’s weird dead wooden doll eyes stared into the camera with awe, or when the TMZ-esque Greek Chorus appeared, looking like the time in 10th grade when I Photoshopped myself onto the cover of US Weekly.
Every time I laughed, I felt slightly uncomfortable, as though I was ruining the experience for the other people in the movie who weren’t laughing. Maybe I was laughing at something they were finding profound? But then there would be a moment like Annette telling a global TV audience “My daddy kills people,” prompting me to giggle like a baby with my fists in the air because I barely have motor skills.
Films presented to us in a context of the arthouse are presented to us presorted. They declare “I’m coming to the local art house theater because I love cinema and film and pronounce Palme d’Or with two syllables and also I know what the Palme d’Or is. I don’t want to go to the local Cinemark where, even though it has better popcorn and Cherry Coke than the smaller theater, one receives an overall worse moviegoing experience.” The arthouse theater only shows good movies right? Even if it’s bad, you’ll still learn something.
That’s the impossible hurdle Annette had to get over– to laugh at a movie presented as high art somehow means it’s lesser, and that means you wasted your money. And that’s $14 you’ll never get again.
We bet you can’t guess whether this is a still from Annette or Star Wars!
But think about it this way: If you felt moved in Roma, or moved in Nomadland, or moved in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, that was a genuine emotion that a film made you feel. And if a film makes you want to laugh because Adam Driver says “this is my baby” while holding up a puppet with the straightest of faces, how is that any less valid?
With that I leave you with this maxim: Dance in the middle of a hurricane with your opera singer wife like nobody’s watching you, love like you’ve never been hurt before by your demon ghost wife. And laugh like you’re watching Adam Driver accidentally sit on his wooden baby.
Dylan Garsee is a stand-up comic and sketch performer in Austin, Texas who has performed at stages ranging from Coldtowne to Sketchfest to Cheer Up Charlie’s. Their writing has appeared at outlets like Television without Pity, and they currently co-host the podcast Straight People Movies. If you don’t follow them on Twitter, you are clearly homophobic and should probably do something about that.