Annette - B
Rated R, 140 minutes
The ambitious, well-acted new rock opera "Annette" from director French director Leos Carax in his English language feature debut, is one of the most intriguing yet peculiar films of recent memory. Overlong and occasionally flawed, it's rarely dull and a memorable alternative to mainstream movie going.
Henry ("Marriage Story's" Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles with a fierce sense of humor who falls in love with Ann (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. Under the spotlight, they form a passionate and glamorous couple. With the birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious little girl with an exceptional destiny, their lives are turned upside down.
The beguiling, overlong yet sublime "Annette" likely derives much of its oddness from its screenplay and music, both of which are written by musician brothers and artists Ron and Russell Mael, collectively known as The Sparks. If you're aware of the duo's music, and/or saw the recent, fascinating documentary on them, "The Sparks Brothers," you're aware of their talent along with their idiosyncratic personalities. The film is a peculiar musical tour-de-force, brought to life by the talents of the immensely talented Driver and Cotillard, both of whom do their own singing.
As good as the music is, the script is a flawed one. The ambitious non-linear storyline is borderline farcicial, both adding and detracting to the film's storyline; much is thrown at the audience, some works and others do not (Baby Annette is largely a special effect in a creepy Chucky sort of way), with more working that not. One thing that does work well is the film's impressive production values and performances, which flow with the music nicely. Driver and especially Cotillard are superb as the troubled power couple; "The Big Bang Theory's" Simon Helberg is memorable in a small role as Ann's conductor, a role that'll almost make you forget Howard Wolowitz.
As intriguing as "Annette" is, it borders on a vanity project for The Sparks as more discover their music. This becomes evident as the film is stretched a half hour too long, with a final act that could've been tightened, but Carax's direction is still solid and the photography from acclaimed cinematographer Caroline Champetier is lovely.
Much like The Sparks themselves, the alluringly entertaining "Annette" isn't a mainstream choice and an acquired taste, but one that should definitely please the growing legion of Sparks' fan base.