Film review: Pop musical ‘Annette’ has lots of twists and turns

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard excel while interpreting songs and a story by pop duo Sparks


Henry (Adam Driver) is a rude comic who treats his devoted audience with disdain, wearing nothing but a robe, some black underwear and house shoes. The audience seems in synch with his edginess, and there’s plenty of interaction.

Henry has a backup chorus that tells the audience when to laugh, via song. They resemble Bette Midler’s Harlettes. It’s all rather arch. But when Henry finishes with his insults, he leaves the stage and drops his pants and moons his fans.

Ann (Marion Cotillard), meanwhile, is a beloved opera singer who dies very well every night on stage. She’s a sweetheart.

She and Henry are unlikely lovers, and newspapers call them the Beauty and the Bastard. They are prone to break into a song that consists mainly of the lyrics “We love each other so much,” similar to “I love you so much.” That might be a nice sentiment for Jo’s Coffee House on South Congress, but it’s a bit repetitive here. And it’s a bit odd when Ann breaks out into song while receiving oral sex from Henry.

But that’s the funny thing about the new movie “Annette,” from eccentric French director Leos Carax. It’s a puzzling feature that keeps stringing you along, as you try to figure out what’s going on.

As you may have heard, “Annette” was the opening night feature at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it got lots of buzz. Carax, whose previous films include the delightfully strange “Holy Motors,” won the festival’s award for best director. And the story and songs were created by the pop duo Sparks, otherwise known as Ron and Russell Mael.

The storyline takes a turn when Henry’s career begins to tank and Ann’s career begins to blossom. And in the midst of this “A Star Is Born” narrative, Ann becomes pregnant. And when she gives birth, it’s to a wooden puppet.

No one — not even the parents — seem to notice this odd development. But when the child begins to break out into arias, everyone starts to notice. Her name, of course, is Baby Annette, and she becomes a sensation.

At this point, you will probably begin to wonder what Carax and the Mael Brothers are up to. One possible interpretation is that they are satirizing fame and fan culture.

You have a comic who moons his fans. You have an opera singer who always dies. And you have a wooden puppet baby who becomes adored worldwide.

Whatever your interpretation, there’s no question that the two actors, Driver and Cotillard, pour themselves into their roles. Driver, especially, takes risks that indicate he completely buys into whatever Carax and the Mael Brothers are selling.

It’s an interesting pop opera, with moments of brilliance.

“Annette” opens Friday in Austin, and will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Aug. 20. In Austin, it can be seen at the Austin Film Society as well as the following theaters: the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, the Drafthouse Lakeline, the Blue Starlight Downtown DI, the Tinseltown 20 in Pflugerville and the Hill Country Galleria 14 in Bee Cave.

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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