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'Annette' isn't my cup of tea, but it's still audacious filmmaking

A bravura Adam Driver performance helped transcend this Sparks Brothers-infused screenplay, even if it's highly eccentric.
Credit: Amazon Studios

ST. LOUIS — A famous comedian (Adam Driver) and internationally-renowned opera singer (Marion Cotillard), pop culture's most famous couple, decide to have a baby and slowly watch their lives unravel.

That's the general plot of Leos Carax's "Annette," an audacious attempt at showing the pratfalls and vicious realities for celebrities when they start a family. Or at least, that's what I think it's about. Granted, a screenplay and story from the minds of Sparks, aka musicians/brothers Ron and Russell Maeve, isn't going to walk a straight line-but then again, you shouldn't be coming here for a linear story with little surprise or juice attached. This is one bizarre movie.

Case in point. The very first scene unfolds with the band preparing to record a live record, only to see them suddenly get up and start walking in the streets with Driver's Henry and Cotillard's Ann. We quickly come to find out these two are a big deal in the modern world, with him collecting acclaim for bold one-man plays that double as comedy skits and her voice bringing her awards and worldwide adoration. Their relationship is highly publicized in the press and they are the subject of constant paparazzi attention wherever they go--which sees two or more characters, ones with names like The Conductor (Simon Helberg), suddenly break into song.

What Sparks and Carax manage to do is subvert even normal expectations for a musical like "Annette," turning the standard into something more absurd and organic. Characters still walk through a scripted scene before breaking into song before returning to dialogue, but it feels different and mimics more of Henry's risk-taking one-man show more often than an actual movie. I never got the idea that I was watching something that had been done before, which is a credit to the musicians and director--even if the material felt detached. While I appreciate their tenacity to remain utterly themselves in their music, the ideology and style of Sparks will determine how much you like or dislike "Annette."

In other words, this isn't my preferred cup of tea (absurdist musical played as a dark comedy), but could be someone else's. Chances are taken and originality is pursued, but I felt more lost and unsure of what I was watching, all the way up to the sad end. This isn't a crowd-pleaser sing-along like "In the Heights" or "Vivo," more of a parody about the obsession the world has with stars and the effects of said connection. Also, the running time of nearly 140 minutes felt like a weight more than something bearable.

Driver's performance is the reason to see this movie. Unlike Cotillard, who is good here if fleeting, the film leans heavily on Driver's Henry. It's his meltdown that fuels the second half of the film. He syncs up with the wickedness of the story and really goes for it as a tormented entertainer who finds his material consuming his life and that of his daughter's world as well. Few actors could have, or would like to, dive as deep as Driver does here. In various appearances and moods, he's the most authentic excitement that I could pull from the minds of Carax and the Sparks Brothers.

"Annette" aims to be very different and even possessed by something musicals haven't exactly traveled to just yet. While it isn't something I would love, I appreciated the attempt to be bold. And I appreciated Driver's work.

"Annette" is currently playing in theaters, and will stream on Amazon Video starting Aug. 20.