Annette ★★★★★

“Now you have nothing to love…”

I described Sparks’ music as an inviting middle finger in my review of Edgar Wright’s recent documentary ‘The Sparks Brothers.’ ‘Annette,’ the band’s first completed foray into narrative filmmaking, feels like the movie version of that sentiment. How appropriate, then, that one of the brothers even flips his main character the bird in perhaps the film’s darkest moment.

I completely understand why this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. As avid of a Sparks fan as I am, it even took me several minutes to get accustomed to some of the film’s herky-jerky rhythms. But once I became comfortable with the fact that this is a contemporary opera, I began to have probably the best time I’ve had in a movie theater all year. Maybe it helped that there was an unexpected thunderstorm here in St. Louis just as our screening was in the film’s inciting incident, but sometimes those serendipitous things just enhance the mood a film is trying to convey, and it certainly did in this case for me.

Adam Driver’s Henry McHenry is a toxic cross between Bo Burnham and Steven Wright, a popular yet brash comedian. His already shaky reputation is shattered when he jokes about killing his wife, Ann (Marion Cotillard), a famous opera star. The marketing team behind the film has done an outstanding job of obscuring what happens after this point, so I’ll just say it only gets darker - and weirder, even for a film that’s already very weird - from there.

Most of this is told in pop or opera singing, and the cast director Leos Carax has assembled does great justice to Sparks’ witty, provocative, and often hypnotic lyrics. Adam Driver gets just as much chance to sing as he does to just plain act his ass off. He is not meant to be likable in this film, but boy oh boy, is he ever watchable.

Marion Cotillard has always had a haunting singing voice, and it’s on full display here. There is one more great singer in this film that’s kind of a surprise, so I won’t spoil it, but it really is the cherry on top if you’re already enjoying the film.

Overall, it’s as much a middle finger to traditional cinematic forms as it is a love letter to them. Caroline Champetier’s brilliant cinematography is the glue that holds all the film’s various stylistic influences together. The use of shadow, color,  and camera movement and blocking is just superb. I especially took note of it in the best of Simon Helberg’s scenes in the movie, where a swirling 360-degree shot communicates so much about the film’s treatise on music and its place in everyday life.

So many of the visuals, sounds, and moods in this film will continue to haunt me like the specter following Henry around. As Schroeder once said, “this is a mood piece.”

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