‘Star Wars’ Screenwriter Rian Johnson Spins Admiration for ‘Annette’

Rian Johnson Annette
Johnson: Walt Disney Studios

For Variety‘s Writers on Writers, Rian Johnson pens a tribute to “Annette” (screenplay by Ron and Russell Mael).

The whispers started years ago. It’s going to be a musical. It’s a rock opera. It’s got a puppet. It’s got Driver in it. It’s written by Sparks. As a Leos Carax superfan, I thought I was being trolled — the elements just seemed too crazy and too good for this world. And as the movie came together and fell apart over several iterations over several years, I braced myself for it to fall into the realm of unmade myth.

Then they made it.

The true accomplishment of Ron and Russell is that even with all the anticipation, their movie took me totally be surprise. And even with all the insanity of its ingredients, it landed for me like an emotional shock bomb. “Annette” is the type of miracle you hope for every time the lights go down in a theater, it’s a flying triple flip made off a speeding motorcycle while juggling chainsaws, that makes a perfect landing and carves your heart out.

It’s also an achievement in writing that makes me dizzy. It isn’t a musical, that is, it isn’t a movie with occasional songs containing sung dialogue. The Mael brothers have taken the next step and written a real honest to god opera. The words are expressionistic paint strokes, bringing you straight into the heart of these characters with deft bombast.

It’s all in service of a very human story about the things we hope will save us, and how we inevitably end up corrupting them. It’s bleak but it ticks because of the essential human compassion at the heart of it, and if you know Ron and Russell, you know where that comes from. To take a huge operatic swing like this, and have it all taper to that fine an emotional point that really expresses something human… that for me is the definition of damn good writing.

Johnson the writer and director of films including “Knives Out,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Looper” and “Brick.”