Synopsis: A foster kid, who lives with her mean foster mom, sees her life change when business tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in.
Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale,Rose Byrne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Zayas, Stephanie Kurtzuba
Director: Will Gluck
Running Length: 118 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: I think it’s part of the job of a movie critic to do their best to remove any personal bias before entering into any film, trying to take what they are seeing for face value and reporting back how that experience felt to them. I have to admit that going into this re-imagined take on the Broadway musical Annie I carried with me some baggage I’ve been dragging around since the project was first announced several years ago.
So OK, perhaps the 1982 film version wasn’t the box office success studios had hoped. At the time, it was critically drubbed, mostly due to the ghastly amount of money spent on it which, to be fair, helped give the film an old-school big Big BIG feel with more orphans than you could shake a shtick at, huge city scapes that brought audiences convincingly back to the Great Depression, and a massive mansion with a singing and dancing staff ready to step-ball-change with every downbeat.
Full disclosure, Annie was the first film I ever saw in the theater and even as a two year old I cast a critical side eye at the musical tale of a scrappy orphan that evades crooks, rescues a dog, and wins the heart of the richest man in America in 127 minutes. I actually didn’t make it through the whole film, opting to high-tail it out when my movie treats had disappeared. Subsequent viewings over the years has endeared the film to me, particularly with Carol Burnett’s dynamite turn as the boozy Miss Hannigan and Ann Reinking as the leggy secretary to Albert Finney’s Oliver Warbucks.
An early preview of the film made the reboot (produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith) look positively frightful and subsequent clips gave me a bad taste in my mouth. I waited with a mixture of glee and dread for the screening to arrive and was prepared to revel in my disdain for what modern spins were put on Annie and trounce those involved for their association with it all.
Consider it a minor Christmas miracle that I left the screening with very little venom for the retooling and a sizable lump in my throat. Though it’s far from perfect and misses the mark more often than it should, this 2014 Annie is neither the embarrassment I had feared nor the train wreck I had secretly hoped for.
Let’s start with the bad and that would be Cameron Diaz. Though Sandra Bullock was the first choice for Miss Hannigan (now fashioned as a foster mom…the words “orphan” and “orphanage” are tantamount to four letter expletives here) when she declined Diaz (Sex Tape, The Other Woman) signed on and the results are less than successful. Admittedly, I got a nice chuckle out of this Hannigan being a faded star former member of C+C Music Factory but would have loved to see the part cast with someone that can sing without the extensive use of auto-tune.
Speaking of auto-tune, I’m shocked that the vocal sweetening tool wasn’t given its own production credit because it comes to the aid of everyone that sings a note here. Some need it more than others (Diaz and Rose Byrne) but its use is so extensive it sounds like your iPhone’s Siri is singing one of the tunes from composers Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. Some Strouse/Charnin songs remain intact but most have been modernized to varying degrees of success. Three new tunes are all over the map, with only one solo for Annie having a modicum of overall value.
The film is so heavy on modern technology and product placement that it will be dated two hours after it’s released in much the same way we look back at early 90s films sporting technology that looks like it was created in the Dark Ages. While the 1982 film was a period piece and could get away with having a timeless feel, this new millennium Annie will be out of date the moment the next Apple product is released.
On the good side, we have Quvenzhané Wallis (the youngest Best Actress nominee in history for her breathtaking turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild) as our spunky heroine. In recent appearances, Wallis has been low energy and in an Adderall daze for her lyp-synched performances but it’s nice to report that in the actual film her spirit is infectious and her singing more than admirable. The aforementioned new song written for her is a delight, performed with sweet honesty. Her chemistry with businessman turned mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained) is a chief saving grace of the film and the reason why you may find yourself wishing you’d brought a tissue with you by the time the finale rolls around. Wallis actually makes Foxx tolerable, no small feat for an actor that never met a role he couldn’t preen and preside over. Though saddled with a loser of a song and a lame humble beginnings history, Foxx looks like he’s having fun here.
Even if Byrne (This is Where I Leave You) receives some help in the singing department, she’s a nicely modern Grace…although I did miss the flair Reinking brought to the role in the 1982 version. Special mention must also be made to Stephanie Kurtzuba (The Wolf of Wall Street) who steals scenes (and then promptly disappears) as a rough around the edges pencil pusher more excited than Annie is when both tour the awesome penthouse belonging to Stacks. Too bad the role couldn’t have been packaged with Miss Hannigan and given over to Kurtzuba…I’ve a feeling it could have been a true star-making turn.
Director Will Gluck comes dangerously close to making a Stomp! film that happens to feature Annie tunes thanks to an opening sequence heavy on percussive elements found in the city leading into two songs featuring lots of clapping, foot stomping, and bucket pounding. Eventually Gluck calms down and lets the actors and the script from Aline Brosh McKenna (We Bought a Zoo) do most of the work.
At the end of the day, did we need yet another version of Annie? Probably not. Even so, the masses of children at the screening I attended didn’t seem to mind any technical shortcomings or vocally assisted performances because they understood the message of a can-do attitude and family at the heart of the story. Turns out maybe I was the one that needed to get that message more than anyone.