Henry (Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with a wild, ferocious sense of humor who falls in love with Ann (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...
Any recommendation you receive for any kind of anything, be it from a critic or from a friend or colleague, is a reflection on the person recommending it. It doesn't matter whether it's a movie, a TV show, an album, a podcast, whatever - the person who is either poo-pooing or trumpeting the content you're being recommending factors into your calculation as to whether or not you'll engage with it. Do they typically recommend painfully middlebrow things, or do they try and push you towards something unusual? Do they know your own sensibilities, and tailor them to you? Do you even trust them in the first place?
The reason for all this musing is because 'Annette' is a wild, crazy, unhinged monster of a movie and your own palette will dictate how you take it, regardless of whether or not it's us recommending it or someone else. Five people could go see this movie and odds are two people will hate it, two people will love it, and one person probably will either not get it or be on their phone the whole time. It's not that it's an extreme movie, like some kind of bloodsoaked horror or a painfully obscure arthouse effort. It is an extreme movie, but it's not the reason for this. No, the reason for 'Annette' being so hard to grapple with it is you're never entirely sure if it's playing things straight or playing things for a laugh. More often than not, it's doing them simultaneously. For example, there's a beautiful song - 'We Love Each Other So Much' - that is a heartrending song about the passionate affair between Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard's characters. They're singing it in the middle of a vivid sex scene, with one verse sung by Adam Driver as he comes up for air while performing cunnilingus on Marion Cottilard.
Both stars - Driver and Cotillard - are committed entirely to the conceit, and you can see that despite the effort and the strain it's putting on them to perform like this, they're absolutely loving it. Driver's natural intensity is played for full comedic and dramatic effect, while Cotillard mesmerises and captivates you with her voice. Together, the pair are electric and even with Simon Helberg rippling in and out of their story, it's the two of them and their complete commitment that sustains you through its hefty two-hour-plus runtime. The farce, the comedy, the romance, the tragedy, the mystery, it wills itself on long past the point where it should have given up making sense or even being this entertaining.
Like Leos Carax's previous work, the equally bananas 'Holy Motors', the whole movie takes in questions on performance and fame, artistic integrity and commercial realities, and then, just when you think you've got a handle on it, the story pulls a handbrake turn and speeds off in a completely different direction and you can only hope to keep up with it. Of course, from the very beginning, 'Annette' invites you to walk out. It's completely earnest, with Adam Driver, Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks, and Marion Cotillard kicking off the entire movie with a joyful march down a street and a musical number to match it. The incessant music and singing, again, is either going to drive you demented or completely suck you in. There is absolutely no in-between on this point. You'll either get on board with it and love it, or you'll walk out inside of the first ten minutes.
That might seem like a cop-out statement, but really, 'Annette' is such a deliberately made movie, and so entirely assured in itself, that you really can either take it or leave it. There can be no quarter given when you've got this much going on.