French director Leos Carax was honored at Cannes, where the movie had its admirers as well as naysayers. The framing of the story coyly lays out that the cast and crew are putting on a show for you (a musical conceit similar to “Jesus Christ Superstar” 50 years ago), suggesting the need for a certain suspension of disbelief.
Nevertheless, what follows essentially misuses the musical format, having characters half-talk, half-sing their thoughts and feelings in stilted song, and employing other surreal devices that prove less transporting than simply irritating.
It doesn’t help that there’s a familiar “A Star is Born” dynamic built into the story, which focuses on the unlikely relationship between a provocateur comedian, Driver’s Henry McHenry, and an opera diva, Ann (Cotillard). There’s not much sense of a connection between the two, but they must be in love, because they sing “We love each other so much” even in the midst of sex.
As the fictitious entertainment-news program Showbizz News explains, when the movie begins both stars are “at the pinnacle of their careers,” which makes their engagement and marriage catnip for the paparazzi (who, like Henry’s concert audiences, awkwardly sing back at them). Soon enough, though, the two welcome a baby girl, Annette, at which point their bond begins to sour, with Henry’s career declining while Ann’s ascends.
What happens after that becomes increasingly dark and twisted, and shouldn’t be spoiled to the extent that it can. Suffice it to say that the movie gives Driver — who explored a soured relationship in “Marriage Story” — ample opportunity to emote and sing (the songs come courtesy of Sparks), which is admirable in one respect and an overreach in another. At a certain point, the most intriguing thought becomes what HBO’s John Oliver, having spoofed Driver’s appeal, will do with this bounty of freshly minted material.
The cast includes “The Big Bang Theory’s” Simon Helberg as Ann’s accompanist, about the only role beyond the leads that significantly registers.
Pressed to explain what “Annette” is ultimately about, the temptation is to respond, glibly, that it’s about two hours and 20 minutes. Because whatever the movie wants to convey about the tortured nature of love, fame, and the toll parenthood can exact is as muddled as lyrics that keep repeating phrases like “I’m not that drunk.”
Although the film will debut in US theaters first, a more logical venue for the curious to see it will be via Amazon, where “Annette” lands in a few weeks. Let the record show, incidentally, that no drinking took place while watching the movie for this review. But by the time it was over, that didn’t seem like a bad idea.
“Annette” premieres Aug. 6 in US theaters, and Aug. 20 on Amazon Prime. It’s rated R.