Hear Driver and Cotillard sing their quirky hearts out.
“Annette,” a zany and often dazzling musical, stars Adam Driver as comedian Henry McHenry and Marion Cotillard as soprano Ann Desfranoux. On stage, he looks like he’s boxing with the robe on, while she wears a red wig. And off stage, he’s a motorcyclist with Gaston’s hair, while she has short pixie hair. They’re so in love with one another that one of their songs is titled “We Love Each Other So Much.”
Remember that documentary “The Sparks Brothers,” which Edgar Wright wisely introduced us to the bizarre geniuses Ron and Russell Mael? Well, this movie is based on an original story of theirs. The songs are by written and often performed by them. And writer/director Leos Carax (in his first entry since “Holy Motors”) collaborates with them. The brothers even appear in various parts of the film, and like that doc, “Annette” is quirky, offbeat, and often entertaining. In fact, if it was shown in various film classes, I can imagine its students laughing the way we would laugh at the crying guard in “The Wizard of Oz.”
The musical numbers combine dialogue with lyrics. For example: Henry’s audience ask why he became a comedian in the style of a Dr. Seuss TV special produced by Friz Frelang, the doctors tell Ann: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in,” and she tells him he’s drunk. It takes the most routine dialogue and transforms them into songs, and they end up being catchy.
The news gets out that they’re both in love, they’re marrying, and expecting a baby girl. And speaking of zany, this one, named Annette (Devyn McDowell) looks like a marionette puppet. With her traveling on the road, he’s stuck babysitting. And it’s the other way around, she dancing with the giggling puppet.
Next, we go into a quick #MeToo mode, as Ann dreams that six women come forward to admit that Henry has abused them with violence and anger. She loves him, but she knows something is wrong.
Then, Henry gets booed at his next show, after telling the audience he killed his wife in an innocent tickle fight. Is he going through the motions? Probably so. Relationships gone sour tend to make people lose their touches.
And they all decide to take a private cruise to fix their relationship, and I have a sinking feeling things are going to get wet. After the tragedy, which I rather not spoil, the toddler Annette turns out to have a voice, which is planned to be exploited on a world tour. Simon Helberg co-stars as a conductor, who not only explains to the audience his repertoire in song, but also has to be part of the exploitation.
“Annette” is an interesting combo of Sparks and Carax and reality and fantasia. It’s just so with how the lyrics are presented, how the actors are drawn out, and how its images are presented in a magical sense. It’s not always understandable, but it’s mostly passionate about the characters and their worlds. Things turn ugly and dramatic, and the power of fame can corrupt those in anguish.
Driver has the nerve to take his characters to new heights, whether we’re talking about blockbusters or artisan features, and here, he’s able to ease into his character’s tensions. As we get to know his character, we discover his true colors. As small of a role for her as it is, Cotillard has her moments of passion and heart, whether or not she’s able to connect with her co-star’s character. After all, things aren’t always what they seem. And McDowell has a voice and a strong sense.
If movie-goers become polarized about the puppet girl or any of the film’s strange aspects, my response is: if it doesn’t have people as CGI animals, then consider yourselves lucky. As a critic who likes to see flicks in various lights, I suggest you see how this plays out, and it’s lively.
In Select Theaters and Streaming on Amazon Prime