A thinker and a stinker.
Somewhere, deep in the bowels of a culturally rich American city, a grad student is violently masturbating and/or crying while streaming Annette for the fourteenth time. “It must add up to nothing because it’s about what the world we live in and that adds up to…NOTHING!” exclaims D’Artagnan, having finally cracked the code of human existence. Nothing pretty much sums up what I gained from Leos Carax‘s Annette, a disappointing follow-up to his marvelously but pointedly insane Holy Motors. Actors sing and wail from scene to scene, each more confounding than the next. I love bizarre and transgressive art, it can be poignant in ways literal interpretations can never be, but it has to have a point. It has to have an entry point for the audience, no matter how small. We have to relate even a tiny bit to the characters we follow and the moral choices they face.
So what is Annette about? Surely it’s not just about nothing. Well, no, the most basic plot surrounds artists’ favorite subject – themselves. Adam Driver is a European film director’s idea of what a successful American stand-up comedian is. Meaning they perform avant-garde anti-humor monologues mixed with ironic musical numbers for chortling rich assholes at the Kennedy Center. I bet if you asked Leos Carax who his favorite stand up comedian was he’d say “Tom Waits“. Marion Cotillard is a personality-free opera singer which is represented much more straightforward. The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg is their accompanist friend named The Accompanist, who barely does anything. I guess they don’t need accompaniment. In fact, he’s so underdeveloped he’s forced to gives u a three minute monologue 75 minutes in, detailing his connection with the power couple and how he secretly has a crush on Marion Cotillard‘s character. None of which is evident based on what we’ve seen before. Anyway, Driver and Cotillard have a baby they name Annette, who is played by the most adorable marionette ginger baby you’ve ever seen in your life. Driver turns out to be a huge sexually abusive dick bag and their marriage crumbles as he tries to make little Annette into a child star. One scene is at the Super Bowl or something and six-year-old Annette is flown into the stadium by a drone, hanging by the neck. Point received on stage parents.
This is probably the 986th film ever made about how toxic show business and success can be on the family unit and so it adds nothing particularly new to the canon. As a viewing experience, I found it to be one of the most grating and obnoxious ones of recent memory. It’s not even that these characters are terminal narcissists, it’s that they aren’t developed enough to even begin to care about. When you have a six-year-old marionette, that doesn’t speak, upstaging both an Oscar nominee and Oscar winner, you really have to ask yourself why. Sure, Annette makes certain choices for not impossible to understand reasons — ex. the child is a marionette to reflect how her parents see her as merely a possession of theirs — but a greater meaning or point never comes to fruition. If Carax had something bigger to say, then the film is a failure for not communicating that. If Carax indeed had nothing to say other than highlight how toxic and fake show business is, well then, way to go? Several films did this better without having to disappear twelve feet up their own ass. I recommend The Player, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Maps to the Stars, Bowfinger, Barton Fink, State and Main and of course, Mulholland Drive. Shit, even the Gaga A Star is Born is better. Grade: C- (Streaming on Amazon Prime)
There’s probably more to admire than flat-out love about Nia DeCosta‘s aggressive, intelligent but a little all-over-the-place sequel/update of 1992’s Candyman. The original film was groundbreaking in its own right in that it was a horror film that seriously explored issues like the ingrained systemic racism within public housing in the “ghettos” and it’s separation from white middle to upper class society, the then-taboo mainstream perception of interracial relations and well-intentioned, but still harmful and/or insulting white savior complexes. While these issues were dealt with respectfully and quite well, the entire film was seen through the eyes of a white outsider protagonist. Which is not to say that a self-critical take from the perspective of whitey has no merit, but when you have a vengeful black killer who revisits the sins of racial bigotry/violence onto his own people rather than representations of the people who oppressed and/or murdered him in the first place, it raises an eyebrow not just in offense but in confusion as well. If you were a black man in the 1800s who was lynched to death and then somehow, came back as a murder ghost, why would you go after modern day victims of the same hatred you experienced a century ago? DeCosta and co-writer/producer Jordan Peele fix or streamline a lot these issues without retconning anything that happened in the original and that’s part of the problem. Candyman doesn’t kill black people in 2021 which is understandable, but he did 27 years ago, so why? While that never really gets explained or explored, so much else does.
Candyman is brimming with maybe too many ideas about race, privilege, how we react to trauma, that it often feels more like a grad thesis presentation than a horror film. Some of these ideas are pretty well-worn territory and they are often presented in such a vague, high-level way that they don’t stick out. However, when the movie explores racism and bias within the artist community, it really shines. This comes as no surprise seeing as though filmmaker Nia DeCosta is obviously a part of this community IRL. A scene involving a white gallery owner slyly trying to communicate to a black artist that they need him to essentially be more black to sell their work is cringeworthy but chillingly accurate. Speaking of chilling, there are some creepy moments to be had within the film, but nothing too scary. There’s a couple of generic hook kills (one truly innovative, seen in a wide shot from the building across the street) that lack the intensity and brutality of the 1992 original and a lot of the pure dread that creeped around every corner of the original, is mostly absent here.
When it comes to character development, this Candyman maybe outshines the original. For most of the film we follow a very interesting protagonist, Anthony, a failing 20-something artist (Watchmen‘s Yahya Abdul-Matten II) who becomes obsessed with the idea that the Candyman legend is somehow going to jump start his career again. He’s far from loveable, but flawed in very relatable ways and at no point do we ever start rooting for his downfall. The film shifts its POV ever so slightly in the last third of the film, following his girlfriend and gallery curator, Brianna (If Beale Street Could Talk‘s Teyonah Parris) who is not nearly as developed or interesting. This shift is bizarre, mainly because it happens too quickly and for seemingly little to no reason, and also because this character is not introduced as a “co-lead” in any way, shape or form. The best performance of the film comes from future Oscar-winning character actor Colman Domingo (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Euphoria, Zola) who always delivers beautifully textured and understated work. This time around, he’s an old Cabrini-Green native haunted by the neighborhood’s history who opts to help Anthony with his research.
I could pick apart and examine parts of this movie all day, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. I love how cerebral Candyman is but at the same time its massive ambition holds it back from making a stronger, emotional impact. The film is only 91 minutes and as such, feels rushed, especially towards the end. I would have loved to have seen what DeCosta and Peele could have done with a 4-6 episode miniseries. I think it would really give them the room to explore all of their concepts and ideas to completion. The real star of this movie ends up being not Candyman or Anthony, but filmmaker Nia DeCosta, who above all else, proves how effective of a director she can be. Is Candyman going to be the best horror film of 2021? Doubtful. Is Candyman going to be the most interesting horror film of 2021? Very likely. Grade: B (In Theaters)