Annette ★★★½

After nine long, tentious years, Leos Carax returns with his follow-up to the 2012 avant-garde explosion, Holy Motors, with an equally insane entry: Annette. It's a rarity to see a director given this much freedom over such a long period (dating back to Mauvais Sang (1988)), but Carax is given a long leash to explore the eccentric part of the human brain. Now, Annette, being written by the legendary Spark Brothers, takes some of the agency out of his hands and places it on the artistic vision of the Sparks. They wrote the script in a specific, niche way that reminds me of listening to their albums. However, Carax still has a mighty influence on the narrative. Starting with the casting and aesthetic.

First off, Adam Driver delivers a career-best performance. Unhinged to the degree that suits his sensibilities as an actor, allowing him to go a step further in character. The stand-up comedy scenes are absolutely brilliant acting, balancing obtuse one-liners with soul-crushing truths about his character. He makes you laugh and cry simultaneously with shocking attitude changes and behaviors. Furthermore, the chemistry with Marion Cotillard sparked some beautiful moments. She was great too, but Driver's impact was more prevalent and drastic, while Cotillard was far more reserved. The duet sounded magnificent, and the two had undeniable physical chemistry.

Now the Sparks script ignores convention, and Carax leans heavily into the structure-breaking nature of the screenplay. However, the writing is both its triumph and then tanks the narrative by the end of the film with the lousiest subplots and Cardinal sin of screenwriting of not having an ending. If the movie ended after 90 minutes, this would've been a phenomenal experience that wrapped up the story in a satisfying way. But it continues for another hour, meandering through story beats till it eventually finds a stopping point. Even Carax's craft fell off a bit with sloppy editing and a disjointed tone that contributed to a final act that wouldn't end.

Granted, the main contribution from the Sparks was the gloriously catchy music that thunders with emotion, but the writing on a plot level could've been touched up a bit. Then again, I spent most of the first two acts fawning over this film, including the writing. It's genuinely only the last act that feels entirely separate from what happens before it. It has an energy that can't be replicated early on before abandoning that later for a droll misadventure into exploiting a child for their talents. It takes a dramatic left turn that feels like a different film entirely, and the pace halts to a stop.

So, Annette is a bit messy but what I can say is the highs of this film are unbelievable highs, and it's easy for me to forgive the second half because I was enthralled with the first half. Regardless, Driver and Cotillard are worth the price of admission alone. It has not left my thoughts since watching; whether that be the original soundtrack or the provocative ideas Carax throws into the universe, it's lodged deep in my subconscious.

Quick notes:
"We Love Each Other So Much" is a beautiful duet that won't leave me alone
"May We Now Start" is not only a typical Sparks song, but the perfect, albeit unorthodox way to...start the show
I will be wearing a green robe for my Halloween costume, I don't care if nobody understands the reference+

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