Review by Sean Boelman
Leos Carax’s first English-language film Annette is about as bizarre as one would expect from a collaboration between the French filmmaker and the quirky musical duo Sparks. An undeniably intriguing and interesting musical, the movie’s unflinching nature will certainly be off-putting to some audiences.
The film follows a controversial stand-up comedian and renowned opera singer whose lives are changed when they discover their young daughter has an exceptional gift. The central plot is ultimately very simple, although the unorthodox structure lent to it by Carax and Ron and Russell Mael makes it feel very distinctive nevertheless.
However, the movie does drag quite a bit. A lot of the musical sequences are somewhat overlong, stretching the film into an excessive two hour and twenty minute runtime. And while the soundtrack has a few really catchy tunes on it, much of the music is the genre-bending, convention-busting type for which Sparks is known.
The area in which the movie comes up short the most is its attempts to make a greater commentary on modern issues. The second half tries really hard to be topical, and even though this results in one of the most superb moments in the entire film, it comes across as insincere and past the point when it would have been needed.
The character development in the movie is also rather lacking. All of the characters feel very wooden (some metaphorically, some literally), and the audience isn’t given anything to latch onto emotionally. The film is clearly meant to feel cold to some extent, but this extreme level of distance prevents many of the beats from resonating.
Both of the lead performances are very good. Adam Driver is excellent in his leading role, delivering some of his most complex and nuanced work yet. It’s a character that requires a lot of range, and he absolutely pulls it off. Marion Cotillard is also great, having great chemistry with Driver, although she is perhaps a bit underused.
In a visual sense, the movie isn’t as accomplished as one would hope. There are some visual effects in parts that look outright cheap. This may be purposeful, but it’s also frequently distracting from the film’s stronger qualities. Additionally, the movie is nowhere near as immersive as it should have been.
Annette doesn’t quite live up to the great potential it has from the premise and talent involved, but it’s definitely one of the more unique films you will see this year, for better or worse. How much one enjoys this movie will very much depend on how willing they are to get on its weird wavelength.
Annette hits theaters on August 6 and Amazon Prime on August 20.