The relatively obscure British pop/rock band Sparks have been having quite the year, seeing the release of both a documentary about themselves directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and this movie that they wrote and scored. While that will likely be the primary appeal among the cult following the band has amassed, I was more drawn to Annette because of how impressed I was with the French auteur director Leos Carax’s last film Holy Motors. The wild, anything goes style of that movie put him on my list of artists who will always merit at least a little interest from me. While Annette doesn’t quite reach the heights of that outré masterpiece, it’s still a delightfully bonkers film.
Confrontational comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) has recently wed opera megastar Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), despite the 2 seeming like an ill fit, and much to the chagrin of her infatuated accompanist (Simon Helberg). Before long they discover they are having a baby, who upon being born is revealed to be represented by a well-crafted but obvious puppet. As their daughter, Annette, reaches toddler stage, Henry discovers that she can sing, and with his own career on a downward spiral, he begins touring her around the world.
This is very much not going to be a movie for everyone. From the aforementioned decision to use a puppet to play Annette, to the fact that the entire thing is structured like an opera, with virtually everything being sung and even the few “spoken” moments being set to music. On the other hand though, it is very catchy music, that is hard not to find yourself tapping along to, and possibly finding stuck in your head afterwards. The cast is excellent, and really sells their roles, but Adam Driver in particular stands out as the very unlikable McHenry. Arguably some of the worst things about the movie are the segments portraying his stage show because of how well he plays the part. His actively antagonistic brand of stand-up is aggressively unfunny to watch by design, and understanding what they are saying with that creative decision doesn’t make those parts much more enjoyable.
Director Carax stages some impressive set-pieces throughout, ably demonstrating how to shoot a gorgeous movie with what was likely a comparatively small budget. And while the story may be fairly simple, its message about how people can use and abuse each other is well-handled (if not fairly obvious), and culminates in a truly memorable final scene. It’s a wild ride that isn’t without its flaws, but is well worth watching if it sounds like your kind of movie. ★★★★
Rated R for sexual content including nudity, and for language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor