In the land of unasked for and unneeded remakes we have our newest entry – Annie. It was interesting to initial reactions to this particular remake as the traditional white girl with freckles and red curly hair was being replaced with a black girl with her brown curly hair. Original stories talked about how producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith wanted their daughter Willow in the role. Ah Hollywood nepotism and the Smith family. Karate Kid, After Earth (*shudder*), and then Annie. We add Jay Z to the mix for – reasons – to help produce the movie. I kind of like to imagine that Jay Z was the reason Willow isn’t flipping her hair back and forth and instead we got a different young actress.
If you are not familiar with the original 1982 movie, comic strip, or musical from 1976, or comic strip from 1924 it is the story of Little Orphan Annie. Surprise I know! It covers the adventures of a young girl, her dog Sandy, her benefactor “Daddy” Warbucks, and a few other characters that would be extraordinarily racist these days.
For the new film, we have couple of updates. She’s no longer an Orphan, she is a Foster kid. The satire of the New Deal and FDR is gone, replaced with mobile phones, modern politics, and social media. Also gone is the risk and the charm. Replacing it is a sense of bitterness of the world.
From an acting perspective, it doesn’t suck. Quvenzhane Wallis is the bright spot in this film. She really does light up the screen the way Annie should. She affects peoples lives around her the way that Annie should. She is everything I wanted from an Annie. Rose Byrne (X-Men First Class, Damages, Insidious) plays Warbucks assistant Grace and seems to be the only person really trying to have fun aside from the kids. Both Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz I think were given wrong notes by the director. Diaz plays obnoxiously over the top for the better part of the film finally coming down to a low simmer in Act III. Diaz may be a good actress but she is no Carol Burnett. Foxx for his part seemed to miss the mark on how to perform; which is odd for such a talented man. Where everyone else was singing in an almost Glee sense as if it was part of the scene, Foxx sings and performs his songs as if he is on stage – which creates a serious disconnect with the costars.
That disconnect continues through most every performance in the film. Sometimes they break the 4th wall, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people react to those singing. Sometimes they don’t. It is all so random and arbitrary as to if the song is Glee style, performance style, or improv. It just doesn’t make sense as to when or where people will react to the songs being performed. That makes the performances awkward to watch and at times uncomfortable because you don’t know the rules. Only one or two are an exception to this and even they don’t make sense. Most of this of course falls on director Will Gluck.
I am really not sure how Gluck got the unfortunate seat at the table on this one. His directorial roles stick to RomCom fare with Easy A and Friends with Benefits. He has produced more but none of them are musicals. So most, if not all, the problems with this film come down to Gluck and the producers not having a good idea of what to do, or how to do it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Smith’s checked out after Willow wasn’t cast. I would have thought Jay Z or Will would have better been able to influence the musical moments with their own experience, but apparently not.
The movie is an awkward, uncomfortable mess. It has so many tonal shifts and character shifts you have trouble keeping up and have no real desire to. In a common critique of modern films, it takes no risks. I remember the original where Annie was on the train tracks being threatened by Rooster (Tim Curry) and for a moment I was actually worried and felt real threat. Nothing comes close to that here. It’s as if Hollywood is afraid to show any form of risk or harm.
The movie suffers and honestly, isn’t that good. I can’t recommend the film to anyone – even if there are a few bright spots, because so many just fall flat or are painful to sit through.