Annette (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell

Director: Leos Carax

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: R for Language and Very Intimate Bedroom Scenes

Release Date: August 6, 2021 (Theaters)/August 20, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

Sometimes I come up with an idea about how I’d like to write my movie reviews, and then in the interest of frankness and openness, I decide to share that thought process with my readers. So while watching the Leos Carax-directed musical Annette, I decided that I wanted my review to feel like a conversation I’m having with my fellow movie lovers. It just felt right given the movie’s energy.

So now that I have your attention and we’re having a conversation: you know Ron and Russell Mael, the brotherly duo behind the influential long-running rock band Sparks? There’s a good chance you’ve heard about them recently, considering that there was a whole documentary about them that came out a couple months ago. Perhaps you even read my review of it. Well now they’ve gone ahead and written the screenplay for an entire musical movie, including all the original songs. Their co-screenwriter (also the director) is a French fellow who’s probably best known to American audiences for Holy Motors, a kooky flick about some guy getting up to all sorts of shenanigans in Paris. This is a teamup that has resulted in plenty of sparks.

Annette is a love story! The central couple are a stand-up comedian named Henry played by American actor Adam Driver and an opera singer named Ann played by French actress Marion Cotillard. Annette is their daughter. (I’ll have more to say about her later.) If you want to know what type of comedian Henry is, I would say that he’s an observational comic in the Seinfeldian mode but with a Zach Galifianakis-style deconstructionist sensibility, with some Marc Maron-esque misanthropy for good measure, along with the hostility of Andy Kaufman at his most dangerous. It’s also worth noting that his pre-show routine includes chain smoking and eating a banana and that he performs in little more than a green bathrobe. As for what type of opera singer Ann is, I’m not sure what to say, because I don’t know the intricacies of opera as much as I know stand-up!

So back to that daughter, who arrives about a third of the way through (after some very passionate lovemaking). She gets a lot of screentime, but you don’t need to worry about child labor laws, because for the most part she’s played by a wooden puppet (until Devyn McDowell takes over at the very end). Now, you may be thinking, “A pu-, a puppet?” There’s no way to be fully prepared for that reveal! At the beginning of the film, it feels like we’re in for a totally rockin’ good time, with an absolute banger of an opening number setting the pace. And for the most part, that is indeed what we get. But as it goes along, Annette only gets stranger and more challenging and generally harder to embrace. We learn some unsavory details about Henry’s past, we start to see him become more combative on stage and in his personal life, and then he and Ann get on a boat and head out to sea, both literally and metaphorically. And I should also mention that most of the second half of the movie is dedicated to Annette’s super successful pop music career, during which time we are continually reminded that she is a baby and that she is played by a puppet. So if you’re not sure you can handle that, I’m sure you’ll appreciate being informed ahead of time.

I’m not sure I’m into every wacky development in Annette, but I have to applaud its unwavering ambition. Although “ambition” perhaps isn’t the right word here. Something like “singularity” or “uncompromisingness” might be a better descriptor. We all have different palates; some of you will have the right cinematic taste buds to handle all this, while others, not so much. I was guaranteed to have a good time thanks to that Sparks soundtrack, even if not everything else hit the spot quite right. But overall, my palate is now richer and my life is now fuller.

Annette is Recommended If You Like: Rock operas, the dancing baby from Ally McBeal, the prop baby from American Sniper

Grade: 4 out of 5 Showbizz News