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Review: Annie (2014)

Annie (2014)

Directed by: Will Gluck

Premise: A remake of the musical. A wealthy mayoral candidate (Jamie Foxx) takes in a foster child (Quvenzhané Wallis) as a ploy to boost his campaign but he develops paternal feelings for her.

What Works: The original Annie was set in the 1930s and told the story of an orphan amid the Great Depression. The 2014 remake of Annie reimagines the story for the contemporary audience, placing it in present day New York. The way in which the material has been adapted is mostly successful and the filmmakers smartly retain the signature images, plot beats, and songs of the original musical while updating it to a contemporary setting and incorporating social media into the story. Among the admirable qualities of the new film is its speed. The movie bounds along and the action is cleverly staged and skillfully edited together, especially the early song numbers “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.” The strongest aspect of the 2014 version of Annie are its central performances. Quvenzhané Wallis plays the title role and Wallis makes Annie a contemporary character. She maintains the sweetness and optimism that are associated with Annie but she also brings an intelligent sassiness to the role that makes her a lot of fun to watch. She is paired with Jamie Foxx as a billionaire businessman turned mayoral candidate. Foxx, who is channeling both Daddy Warbucks and Michael Bloomberg, is well cast in the part. Foxx has already established himself as capable of acting and singing but here he gets to do family friendly comedy and he does it well. Rose Byrne plays his assistant and the comic, dramatic, and musical requirements of the movie allows her to show off much more of her skill set than she ever has before.

What Doesn’t: The 2014 version of Annie suffers from one bit of miscasting: Cameron Diaz as the villainous Miss Hannigan. Diaz is out of her depth. In the past she has been a successful comic performer but more so in R-rated fare and when she tries to be silly in Annie it often comes across as obnoxious and off-key with the rest of the film. Diaz isn’t a very strong singer, especially in comparison to the people around her, and her musical performances fall short. But the problems of the 2014 version of Annie run much deeper than one miscast role. The energy of the film, which is so vibrant in the first half hour, wanes over the course of the picture. The later musical numbers are not as good as the early ones and the film runs out of steam. The problem is partly rooted in the source material. The Annie stage musical is a stupid story but it has succeeded because of some memorable songs and because its cornball sentiment is buoyed by its genuine optimism. In the 2014 version the songs and the hopefulness are not done very well and this lays bare the narrative problem of the story. There is little or nothing at stake in Annie. The title character is an orphan who is taken in by a wealthy foster father who eventually wants to adopt her. There is nothing standing in the way of these characters forming a family and living happily ever after and the efforts to create drama are transparently contrived. This is true of the original stage production but it’s even more egregious in the new film. When the movie gets to its climax there is no tension and little pay off. The efforts to contemporize Annie, although cleverly done, are also problematic. The original Annie was a political text that overtly—if superficially—endorsed the Leftist politics of the New Deal. The 2014 version of Annie is politically incoherent, divvying between the New Deal politics of the original and contemporary Libertarian ideas. This strikes at the heart of what Annie is all about and the new film is a thematic mess.

Bottom Line: The 2014 remake of Annie is an admirable attempt and it’s well cast but the movie is lacking in too many critical areas. It’s dramatically limp and it fails to yoke the feel-good sentiment that viewers of this kind of thing will be looking for.

Episode: #523 (January 4, 2015)