Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard sounds like a killer combination. And it is, but not in the way you want it to be.
Two of my favourite stars pair up and break down in French director Leos Carax’s maddeningly awful anti-musical. Driver plays an angry, motorbiking, stand-up comedian (as is painfully customary in films about comedians, none of his jokes are remotely funny despite the on-screen audience falling about in gales); Cotillard plays an opera diva, who’s not so much Callas as callous.
Falling in lust in LA, they have a baby, Annette, who is played by a marionette. I don’t know why. I’ve thought for hours and I can’t come up with a single good artistic reason for this. It’s a bit creepy, certainly, but we’re not talking Chucky here. While her parents argue and combust with jealousy, we’re told the tiny puppet child is blessed with an angelic singing voice, a talent that makes her world-famous.
Carax – who occasionally makes cracked, cult masterpieces such as Les Amants du Pont-Neuf or, just about, Holy Motors – directs with a cloth ear for English dialogue and, more troublingly, for music. Composing duties fell to arch pop ironists Sparks and, like Driver’s jokes, none of the tunes are hummable and the singing is dreadful throughout. Thing is, they must all have done it on purpose – La Vie En Rose proved Cotillard can belt out a chanson and anyone who’s seen A Marriage Story will have gawped at Driver’s rendition of Sondheim. Not even the baby puppet with the allegedly God-given voice is listenable.
I don’t know what any of them were doing. There’s a storm scene on a boat done with old- Hollywood-style back-projections, so if you wanted to given Annette the benefit of the doubt you could say there’s some point being made about artifice and fame and dreams turning sour. But why make a musical with no joy, no wit, no dancing? Unless it’s Carax’s pretentious, intellectual riposte to the raptures of something like La La Land and, finally, here’s the musical for people who hate musicals? They’re welcome to it.