Director: Will Glick
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Written by: Will Glick, Aline Brosh McKenna, (based on the stage play book) Thomas Meehan and (based on the comic strip) Harold Gray
Running Time: 115 mins
Release date: 20th December 2014
I went into the modern revamp of Annie with more than a little trepidation. Did we really need another version of the 1977 Broadway musical amongst the countless rehashes for both screen and TV (including a Bollywood version) along with the miserable sequels? Far from hoping for the best, I entered the screening, with sick bag in hand. I didn’t need it because, surprise upon surprise, it wasn’t as painful as I thought. It’s far from perfect but it wasn’t the Christmas turkey I thought it would be.
Annie Bennett is a foster child who dreams of finding her real family. Trapped in the home of mean drunk, Caroline Hannigan, she bumps into Will Stacks, a mobile phone entrepreneur who is running for mayor of New York( although the public opinion of him is low). Seeing the chance meeting as a photo opportunity, Stacks takes Annie in and finds himself slowly being charmed by the little girl, even though behind the scenes, there are plans to use her for more votes.
A long-time project for superstar rapper Jay-Z and Will Smith, this has taken quite a while to hit the screens and you would have thought with all the time spent, they would have got it right. There are more wrongs here but when it does hit the right note, it works. The opening scene, for example, brings hope as we see a ginger-haired white girl called Annie being pushed aside in a school room for African-American Annie Bennett, who then goes through an elaborate routine about Theodore Roosevelt and the New Deal, which was heavily featured in the original Annie.
Pushing out the old and into the new doesn’t always mean good things. There is a constant longing for a lavish, memorable musical number with colour and a choreographed dancer. Instead everything is sorely underplayed, as if they are embarrassed that this is a musical. Only It’s A Hard Knock Life gets the proper treatment with a well-made Stomp-like routine. The rest of the time, director Will Glick is more interested in the upper part of the body instead of the dancing legs.
Updating the songs don’t all necessarily work either. We are all familiar with songs like Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile or Miss Hannigan’s bitter Little Girls, yet here they have tried to bring them to the 21st Century and they aren’t as catchy as the old songs. The worst victim is the original show’s best number, Easy Street, which has been totally ruined.
The songs also sound like they have been massively over-produced with the auto-tuner going into over-drive. The sound editing is all wrong with a genuine sense that you are watching the cast miming and only one song looking remotely like it’s being performed live.
The film also has a very uneasy feel about it, both tonally and morally. It promotes the Greed Is Good philosophy, with Will Stacks, coming across like a modern Howard Hughes with his hatred of germs from other people and yet he wants these same people to make him mayor. If the moral standings were right, then the film lacked energy, as if the cast didn’t really want to be there.
The performances are a very mixed bag, with Jamie Foxx as Will, looking increasingly awkward throughout and never capturing the gruffness of Daddy Walbucks. Instead he looks rather pathetic with his hand-gel antics. He also has to do a musical number inside a helicopter that will make you cringe for him, as he looks like he wants to open the door and jump out. Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan looks like she’s stepped onto the set of the wrong film, overdoing everything. She would make a great pantomime villain but it sits uncomfortably here.
Thankfully there’s Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie, who seems the most natural and the most comfortable with the whole thing. After proving her acting strengths in the brilliant Beasts Of The Southern Wild, where she became the youngest actress to receive an Oscar nomination, here she has grown up to be a likeable Annie who you don’t want to slap for being so stage school brattish. Without her, the whole film would probably have been an unmitigated disaster. She holds the whole thing together.
Annie isn’t the monster that I thought it would be and while it is massively flawed, it does have a certain amount of charm and moments that genuinely work. I didn’t need the turkey stuffing after all.