James Westbrook’s review published on Letterboxd:
Too absurd and elastic for me to come up with a coherent thesis on first watch, but something I haven't seen commented on elsewhere is how adept Carax is at balancing out the musical numbers with silence and stillness. He frequently cuts out of the heaviest moments of bombast into quiet establishing shots of Ann & Henry's country house or neon-drenched city streets, deliberately yanking the overall rhythm back to earth. It's a strategy in keeping with the tempered spectacle Carax engineers out of the Sparks brother's story; Annette may be the most Brechtian musical in history, so intently does it reinforce its own artificiality, whether through the on-the-nose "this is a movie" opening, the obvious unreality of the waves at its climax, the sleek, cold sheen of its images, Henry's barely-a-stand-up-act stand up act (the least believable successful stage show in fiction, which leads me to believe we're to read those scenes as subjective renderings of how Henry views his work, rather than the work itself), or the character of Annette herself, in all her puppety glory. If there's a thoroughline between all of Carax's work it's in the balance between his showman's surrealism and his post-modern inclination to turn everything into a comment on filmic form itself. Annette may be the most successful he's ever been at rendering those ideas in totally non-intellectual terms; it's a movie straight from the dick, with all the bluster and gross, masculine self-hatred such a description implies. I constantly felt absorbed and rebelled by it, drawn in by the outrageous sincerity of its lyrics and performances even as Carax's semi-clinical framings and non-diegetic formal choices made me feel like I was observing it from afar. It's fascinating, frequently gob-smacking, and sometimes incredibly beautiful*, even if it sometimes feels like it's just putting a new, bizarre coat of paint on the self-pitying male artist self-portrait**. Which makes this proof positive that bizarreness, when done this ingeniously, is sometimes enough.
*I was particularly drawn to the austere lighting on the stone slab-like island Henry and Annette wash ashore on after the before-mentioned wave scene, and the way the bright, reflective surface of the rocks and the white moon contrast with the blue-black sky. One of those images that will stay with me for a long, long time.
**Though I think this is more a riff on such self-portraits than one itself, though I can't speculate on that too much because then I might accidentally come up with a coherent thesis and have to eat my shoe.