MUSICAL DRAMA; 2hr 20min
STARRING: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard
Lunatic fringe: Driver
Bolshie stand-up comic Henry McHenry (Driver) and fine-boned opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Cotillard) are magnetic poles and don’t they know it. Their stardom is an affection and a validation: “We’re scoffing at logic,” Henry warbles as the two profess their “counterintuitive” love in a schmoozy duet. Their divine madness is wrapped in music from screenwriters Ron and Russell Mael of the band Sparks, but don’t let the sunny numbers fool you: this hyper-driven musical is also the brainchild of French director Leos Carax, whose first film in English it is and whose head-spinning Holy Motors (2012) was all kinds of uncanny.
When Henry and Ann marry and have a child, Baby Annette — with her elvish eyes, jug ears and jointed limbs — is no ordinary being. In fact, she is a marionette (although played in her final, assertive scene by Devyn McDowell), an impossibility about which absolutely nobody makes a peep. It is also around now that Henry’s star flames out, with a savage turn in Las Vegas that alienates his audience and sees Driver using his broody physicality like a weapon, prowling the stage while exploding with contemptuous rage.
Mirrored by Ann’s ascendance, Henry’s downfall is a showbiz story as old as the biz itself, with the notable additions of an enchanted humanoid doll, proclamatory singing and the other-worldly beauty of Caroline Champetier’s cinematography. Then tragedy strikes, Baby Annette reveals her incredible gift and the surreal becomes the show.
Who better to stir this splashy pot than the man who brought us talking limousines? When every stylistic flourish is set dressing in a tumult of envy, excess and regret, the storyteller is also part ringmaster, splicing the darkness with magical shafts of light.