2014, PG, 118 mins.
2014, PG, 118 mins.
Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie / Jamie Foxx as Will Stacks / Rose Byrne as Grace / Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan / Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Nash
Directed by Will Gluck / Written by Will Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna
is a strange cinematic occurrence. It’s
a movie remake of a movie adaptation of a Broadway musical remake of a
classic comic strip.
course, this new big screen version of ANNIE is technically the third if
one considers the 1982 John Huston film and the 1999 ABC TV iteration (which is not half bad at all). All of these films owe their existence to the 1977 Broadway
stage production (it ran for over six years), which, in turn, was an
update on the 1924 Harold Gray comic strip LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE. To say that any new movie version of ANNIE has fairly
sizeable shoes to fill would be an understatement, not to mention that
some revitalizing changes – while staying true to the very essence of
the original musical – would certainly need to be made in order to make
any new film feel fresh to contemporary audiences.
Otherwise, what would be the point, then?
Will Gluck (whom previously made the wonderful Emma Stone high school
comedy EASY A) understands this by rooting his version of ANNIE in the
original story, but nevertheless makes sizeable alterations (including
time period changes and a most invigorating change of ethnicity for the title
character). Specifically, he
alters the setting from 1930’s Depression era to present day New York (a place and time where economic disparity still reigns supreme) and
makes some key changes to the Oliver Warbucks character; he’s now
William Stacks, a billionaire mobile phone mogul that has aspirations of
running for mayor. Little orphan Annie
doesn't live in an orphanage anymore, but rather in a foster
home. Most of the iconic and
memorable songs are intact, albeit with tweaks here and there to
accommodate referencing to the present day.
All of these retrofitted modifications are kind of wonderful, but
ANNIE frustratingly never really soars as the toe-tapping delight that I
was expecting. It’s got
heart and earnest intentions, but lacks spunk and energy.
ANNIE does have, though, is the wonderful Quvenzhane Wallis - the empowered
young actress that became the youngest Oscar nominated performer in history
for her towering work in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – who’s
wonderfully cast as the titular character, despite being somewhat
disappointingly mannered and lacking in naturalness in her performance.
The film sets its aspirations to be different right from the get-go
with a sly shot at previous incarnations of ANNIE.
We see a New York elementary classroom that shows a red haired girl – that
looks conspicuously like the classic Annie of old – delivering an oral
report to her classmates. The
film’s “real” Annie in Wallis then quickly replaces her,
who then delivers a musical speech about President Roosevelt’s New Deal
and Depression era hardships in general.
Considering that red-haired Caucasian girls have populated every
other previous ANNIE production, Gluck introducing us to Wallis in this manner is kind of
this new Annie lives in a modern technological world of smart phones,
YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, which makes it rather fitting that
she’s “saved,” so to speak, by a business tech giant.
One day while cavorting around on the streets of Manhattan she’s
nearly run over by a car, but William Stacks (a very game and very committed
Jamie Fox) steps in to save her. Usually,
he’s a man that has only his own imperatives and needs front and center.
He recently developed a remarkable smart phone that never drops a
call (at least in New York), and after becoming a business sensation he
has decided to make a hasty bid for the mayor’s office.
Unfortunately, Will is a bit of a stiff shirt that suffers from
many public indiscretions while trying to look good on camera.
He’s so damn uncomfortable in his own skin that he cleanses his
hands with sanitizer in fits of OCD behavior.
Will’s unscrupulous campaign aide (Bobby Cannavale) thinks that Will
should take Annie in to appease the one per center voters that hate him and the
99 per cent he represents. This
plan somewhat turns off Will’s kind assistant (Rose Byrne, radiating
good will and sass), but he relents and allows Annie into his fold,
which really turns off her foster home caretaker, Miss Hannigan (Cameron
Diaz, woefully and embarrassingly all over the performance map).
The rest of the film unfolds in a fairly preordained manner,
featuring the icy cold billionaire having his heart melt the more time he
spends with the innocent, free wheeling, and full of life Annie.
Obligatorily, setbacks ensue, misunderstandings occur, and eventual
reconciliation happens, which leads to a rosy and happy ending
for all. None of this should
surprise any familiar with ANNIE lore.
new change of time period for ANNIE is compelling and welcome.
It’s always interesting to see classic characters re-worked and
reconfigured for modern day consumption.
Even though the new ANNIE doesn’t have the lower and working
class sense of downtrodden struggle that the Dirty Thirties versions of
the character had, Gluck’s film still grounds itself in class disparity
while honing in on how today's prevailing social media – combined with
political imagery, poll numbers, and election coverage – can warp
those like Will to become people they don’t want to be.
ANNIE has its finger on the pop culture pulse of America in
how the media twists perception of reality and how those behind the scenes
use it to their advantage. All in all, this intriguingly progressive minded and
retooling of ANNIE works.
what about the songs and music? Many
of the classic tunes are still intact will pop music modifications.
Some are decent, but a majority of them lack a free wheeling sense
of fun, spontaneity, and vivaciousness.
The choreography of many of the numbers also registers flatly at
times and some – including a God awful rendition of "Easy Street" with
Diaz and Cannavale – elicits more disapproving groans from audience
members than it should have. Even
potential showstoppers like “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” lack
emotional intensity; they kind of just come and listlessly go by without
much joyous fanfare. I’m
not sure if this has a considerable amount to do with the film being
populated with non-singers or Gluck’s clumsy and uninspired handling of
Fox and Wallis, though, have extraordinary chemistry and solid vocal range as singers. Wallis gets by considerably on adorably nimble charisma alone and Foxx can play handsome and debonair leading men with socially awkward underpinnings in his sleep. Rose Byrne – even being saddled with a one-note potential romantic suitor role – brings class, dignity, and sweetness to her part. Diaz, regrettably, is so broad and embarrassingly manic that someone should have prescribed Ritalin to her on set. Alas, there’s much to like in ANNIE: its wonderfully necessary multicultural take on the classic character, its noteworthy time period adjustments, its story’s easygoing optimism, and its two lead actors, both of whom are sublimely watchable on screen together. The musical numbers contained within the film, however, just didn’t cheerfully linger with me after leaving the screening. ANNIE possesses ample good will, but as a movie musical, it’s kind of flat and tone deaf.
MY CTV REVIEW: