“Is this Good-Weird or just Weird-Weird?” That nagging question never faded from my mind at any point during Leos Carax’s entertainment-industry rock opera Annette, but I’m not convinced it’s a question that needs an answer. I’m cool with the movie’s low-energy batshittery either way. It at least has a sense of humor about itself, and there’s nothing else quite like it – two qualities that cannot be undervalued in the current Prestige Filmmaking landscape. Originally composed as a concept album by the avant-garde pop group Sparks, Annette feels more like a prank than a proper musical. Every line of dialogue is written as unsubtle, declarative statements about what each character is doing & feeling in the moment, as if that information wasn’t already being illustrated onscreen; they’re also sincerely performed as pure, straight-forward melodrama. And yet the entire film feels as if it’s being conveyed with a tight, self-amused smirk, impressed with its own audacity as a go-for-broke Weird Movie with a legitimate budget & cast. I’m impressed as well, even if I can’t quite match how impressed it seems to be with itself.
Adam Driver stars as a low-effort, hacky stand-up comedian who’s earned rockstar status through his “tells it like it is” abrasiveness, which protects him from having to be vulnerable onstage. His fame skyrockets when he romantically links with a renowned opera singer played by Marion Cotillard, whose contrasting artform is high-effort & devastatingly vulnerable on a nightly basis. The comedian’s ego is threatened by the amount of oxygen his tenor-wife’s career eats up in their life together, especially once her starpower outshines his own. That resentment leads him to explosive, violent fits of anger, as well as the financial exploitation of their child, whose own singing career allows him to vicariously re-live his former professional glories. This all sounds typical enough for a star-studded, festival circuit melodrama with Awards Season ambitions, but Annette‘s wryly operatic line-deliveries & near-future visual mindfuckery abstract all its familiar narrative elements into oblivion. Its Weird-Weird weirdness is concentrated entirely in its execution, not in its premise.
My favorite aspect of Annette is how outright hostile it is towards its audience, mirroring the onstage abrasiveness of its stand-up “comedian” protagonist. Like in Soderbergh’s introduction to the difficult-to-define prank comedy Schizopolis, the movie opens with Carax issuing commands that everyone hold our breath, our farts, and our full attention for the entirety of the screening. We’re instructed to “Shut up and sit” without any distractions for the following 140min, which feels like a tall order considering that it was distributed through Amazon Prime concurrently with its theatrical release. Carax doesn’t want your absent-minded snacking or social media scrolling to compete with his quietly bizarre vision of the modern movie musical. If you grant him your full attention, he promises to treat you to a nightmarish inversion of pop-culture celebrity in a near-future Los Angeles. He mostly delivers. The film’s explicit sex, fairy tale puppetry, late-night motorcycle rides, and surrealist parodies of Entertainment Tonight broadcasts are all incredibly, uniquely eerie deviations from the mainstream-filmmaking norm. I don’t fully know what its intent or purpose are besides achieving that eeriness, but that effect was more than enough to hold my attention (if not my farts).
My only complaint about Annette, really, is that it’s obnoxiously long. I was amused by the blatant emotional declarations of the song lyrics, the absurdist intrusion of the puppet-baby, the surface-level jabs at entertainment media vanity, and all the rest. It’s just that it could have been an entire hour shorter without sacrificing any of those distinguishing details. The movie is Weird, but it is persistently Weird in the exact same way from start to end, with no detectable ebb or flow in its tone. However, as impatient as I could get with the vast ocean of Weird-Weird water-treading between its opening & closing numbers (the only genuinely catchy songs of the bunch), I recognize that obnoxious self-indulgence & self-amusement as exactly what’s endearing about the film in the first place. A movie this hubristic pretty much has to be an hour longer than needed; that’s just part of its nature. And, hey, at least it’s a more singularly entertaining waste of Amazon’s money than the rocket fuel that powers Jeff Bezos’s mid-life crisis.