2021 is shaping up to be a significant year for movie musicals: We've already seen In the Heights, and several more stage-to-screen adaptations are headed our way, including Dear Evan Hansen; Tick, Tick ... Boom!; and Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story.
While I'm looking forward to them, I doubt any of them will be as strange and singular as Annette, an original musical in every sense. It's an extravagantly emotional rock opera that mixes comedy and tragedy, showbiz satire and doomed romance. It doesn't all work; if you're not on its bizarre wavelength, it may not work for you at all. But moment by moment, its go-for-broke audacity left me feeling grateful that it exists.
Annette was directed by Leos Carax, the French visionary best known for his unhinged 2012 masterpiece, Holy Motors. The script and songs were written by Ron and Russell Mael, the musical brothers whose band, Sparks, has enjoyed a cultish following since the '60s. The director and writers appear on-screen at the beginning of Annette, in a playful number called "So May We Start," that also introduces the main actors. It kicks things off on a joyous high note that quickly fades as the film begins spinning a tale of rage, obsession and jealousy.
At the heart of the movie is Adam Driver's mesmerizingly anguished performance as Henry, a cynical L.A. standup comedian who rips into himself and his audience every night during a rambling, not-particularly-funny routine. Henry has recently started seeing Ann, a beloved opera soprano played by a luminous Marion Cotillard.