“Annette” review: Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in a musical that falls flat


French director Leos Carax was honored at Cannes, where the film had its admirers as well as its detractors. The story framing shyly explains that the cast and crew are putting you on a show (a musical vanity similar to “Jesus Christ Superstar” 50 years ago), suggesting the need for some suspension of disbelief.

Nonetheless, what follows essentially abuses the musical format, having characters who are half talking, half singing their thoughts and feelings in a stilted song, and using other surreal devices that turn out to be less transporting than just irritating.

It doesn’t help that there is a familiar “A Star is Born” dynamic built into the story, which centers around the unlikely relationship between a provocative comedian, Driver’s Henry McHenry, and opera diva, Ann ( Cotillard). There isn’t much of a connection between the two, but they must be in love, because they sing “We Love Each Other So Much” even in the middle of sex.

As the fictional entertainment news program Showbizz News explains, when the film begins, the two stars are “at the peak of their careers,” making their engagement and marriage catnip for the paparazzi (who, like the audience of Henry’s concerts, they sing awkwardly). Soon, however, the two welcome a baby girl, Annette, at which point their bond begins to deteriorate, Henry’s career declining as Ann’s one rises.

What happens after that gets darker and more twisted, and shouldn’t be spoiled as much as possible. Suffice it to say that the film gives Driver – who explored an embittered relationship in “Marriage Story” – ample opportunity to move and sing along (songs courtesy of Sparks), which is admirable at one respect and excessive in another. At some point, the most intriguing thought becomes what HBO’s John Oliver, having usurped Driver’s call, will do with this bounty of freshly made material.

The cast includes Simon Helberg of “The Big Bang Theory” as Ann’s accompanist, about the one role beyond the lead roles that registers in any meaningful way.

In a hurry to explain what “Annette” is finally talking about, the temptation is to answer, casually, that it is about two hours and 20 minutes. Because everything the film wants to convey about the tortured nature of love, fame, and the heavy toll that parenthood can take is as confusing as lyrics that repeat phrases like “I’m not so drunk.”

Although the film will first debut in US theaters, a more logical place for those curious to see it will be via Amazon, where “Annette” lands in a few weeks. Let the recording show, moreover, that there was no alcohol consumption while watching the film for this review. But in the end, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.

“Annette” premieres August 6 in US theaters and August 20 on Amazon Prime. It is classified R.


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