– Summary –
Director : Will Gluck
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz, Tracie Thoms, Dorian Missick, David Zayas, Peter van Wagner.
Approx Running Time : 118 Minutes
Synopsis: A young foster child is taken in by a wealthy businessman to help him win the New York mayoral election.
What we think : Shiny, slick Annie remake isn’t a patch on the original; this is a bland, music-video-lite styled affair lacking a genuine villain(ess) or even some manner of tone with which to hang emotional baggage to. The music is bastardized into “modern” production style, the characters lack resonance or even a sense of believability, and Will Gluck’s meandering direction leaves this fruitless remake/reboot/reshuffle to clunk out to musical oblivion within a few minutes of starting. It’s a frickin’ shame, really.
The sun’ll come out tomorrow. Global warming is a bitch like that.
1982’s film version of Annie remains a family and cult favorite. Not the least because it’s lead actress, a vibrant and cute-as-a-button Aileen Quinn, was surrounded by a fabulous cast in the iconic roles. Tim Curry, Carol Burnett, and goddam Albert motherf@cking Finney as Daddy Warbucks ensured the 1982 version’s place in musical cinemas hall of fame. While Annie was remade as a television movie in 1999, it’s taken until now for the Hollywood radar to circle back to everyone’s favorite orphan (foster kid here, because being an orphan is almost as bad and possibly worse, and we can’t have youngsters thinking about their dead parents, can we?) for the remake treatment on the big screen. Will Gluck, the “visionary” director behind Easy A, Friends With Benefits and Fired Up!, blacks-up Annie with Jamie Foxx and Quevenzhane Wallis in the lead roles of Will Stacks (this film’s Daddy Warbucks) and Annie, respectively. Exactly why these characters suddenly needed to be black is a little hard to fathom (I guess it’s easy for audiences to believe a young black kid might be a foster child instead of a white kid? *cough*racist*cough*) but there you go. Throw in the iconic song list and a slick, shiny New York City backdrop, and Annie’s 2014 edition is ready to stride into tomorrow and away from its hard knock life. Or is it? Is Annie’s updated pop-culture savvy market demographic ready for a kid singing about a “hard knock life”? Is this film any good at all?
Plot synopsis stolen from Wikipedia: 10-year-old Annie Bennett (Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts Of The Southern Wild) is a foster child living in Harlem. She lives with the alcoholic and bitter Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who has taken in four other foster children–Isabella, Tessie, Mia, and Pepper–in order to receive money from the state. Unlike the other girls, Annie believes her parents will one day return for her and imagines what they might be like. Hannigan, annoyed by the girls’ singing, puts them to work cleaning up the apartment ahead of a visit from their social worker. On the other side of the city, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), cell phone mogul and billionaire, is running a disastrous campaign for mayor of New York City. His hotshot adviser Guy (Bobby Cannavale), his assistant Grace (Rose Byrne), and bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) attempt to help him clean up his public image, but Stacks’ general dislike for people alienates him from would-be voters. Annie is walking home from after another failed attempt to discover her parents when Stacks snatches her from the path of a speeding truck. A video of Stacks’ heroism goes viral, and his approval rating goes up. Guy suggests that Stacks invite Annie to his home for lunch as a publicity stunt to capitalize on the public interest in Annie. Annie, recognizing an opportunity, suggests that Stacks become her temporary guardian, promising him more photo opportunities. Stacks agrees, and Annie moves into his luxurious but lonely penthouse. Meanwhile, Miss Hannigan is frustrated that Annie has become famous while her own life goes nowhere, and sets about trying to ruin Annie’s happiness.
Let’s get to it: 2014’s version of Annie is a soulless, empty vessel of Easy Street proportions. A garish, lamentable screenplay (by Gluck, Emma Thompson – yes, that Emma Thompson – and Aline McKenna), horrifyingly poor casting decisions and some atrociously vapid direction by Will Gluck let this remake of Annie just evaporate in tomorrow’s sun coming out. I’m trying hard to make jokes, I really am. On the surface it had potential, with Quevenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx being particularly brave and possibly inspired decisions, and the foundation of the original 70’s musical, which remains a favorite today, providing solid support for any creative holes the film-makers got into, but somewhere, somehow, somebody forgot to make a movie people would actually enjoy.
Instead of being an orphan, as the original story had, this Annie is simply a foster kid looking for her parents. The difference being that this Annie has hope, whereas her progenitor version did not; hope in having a family, that is. It’s the core premise of the Annie story, really, and they’ve changed it for no reason other than to make it feel “modern” and real. What this change does, though, is makes the relationship between Annie and
Daddy Warbucks Will Stacks less concerned about the end result of their business union, which robs the story of some major subtext. If Annie’s so hung up on her parents, instead of knowing they’re dead and gone and having to rely solely on Warbucks Stacks, it moves the focus off their relationship when it doesn’t need to.
Okay, so there’s that. Then there’s Jamie Foxx’s Stacks, a most inflated egomaniac with absolutely no reason to be. Stacks is a douche, and while Foxx is able to prevent him from slipping into being a total dickhead, the decision to make him so unlikeable to people (unlike Warbucks, who’s just demanding – Stacks can’t stand people) seems at odds with his decision to run for mayor in the first place, let alone build up a massive telephone company. Annie’s relationship with him seems less paternal and more just like a matter of convenience, and even when things begin to thaw, and Stacks actually discovers he likes Annie, it’s far too late for the audience to give a crap. Not to mention Stacks’ two helpers, played by Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, the former who might as well be a store mannequin for all the impact she has here, and Cannavale doing some weird mix of Jim Carrey and Brad Garret, and failing at both; the “adults” in Annie are idiots, and the film doesn’t seem to care. The lead actress, Wallis, acquits herself rather well, all things considered, but Annie is nothing but a bit of a smart-ass, cracking wise and handing out attitude to all who’ll listen. Whereas Aileen Quinn had that cheeky insouciance to carry her performance in 1982, Wallis can’t muster similar material enough to counterbalance the attitude. If anything, a foster kid who’s so irrepressibly upbeat the entire time probably should be in counseling, or on some kind of drug, instead of being passed off to rich dudes looking to score.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the utter travesty of Cameron Diaz’s performance here, as Miss Hannigan. Diaz has never been known for her mean streak – I doubt she has a nasty bone in her body – but the fluke success of Bad Teacher probably gave her a higher opinion of her ability than she deserves. Her performance as Hannigan, here a semi-alcoholic, abusive white-trash cliche, is execrable, a shockingly obvious miscast for the worst possible actor for a role I’ve seen in a long, long time. Watching Diaz woodenly pretend to hate the girls in her charge was skin-crawling, and her devious behavior lacked substance, motivation or depth – she was a villain because the film needed one, not for any other reason. And Cameron Diaz is horrendous in this. F@ck, it kills me to say that, because she’s normally a great actress in most of her films. Stick to what you know, Cameron.
And the songs. Ahh, the songs. The most recognizable show tunes for a generation (at least to me, that is), Annie’s famous lyrics and melodies are bastardized into modern versions that lack relevance, inherent truth or even just plain, old-fashioned showmanship. I didn’t think it was possible to turn classic songs into shitty auto-tune variations (Madonna’s “American Pie” proves me wrong the second I write that) but Annie manages. The film doesn’t even pretend to try and make them look like the actors are singing them: the mix of the songs is so obviously pre-recorded, so out of tone with the rest of the action, it drags you from the movie and into “oh, this is a required song” mode. Ugh, it’s horrible. Gluck’s re-purposing and repositioning of much of the material seems to work to a point, but the effort is fruitless considering how shocking the rest of the movie is.
Annie isn’t my demographic (at least, not any more), and as such the tweens and the elderly who love this kind of “easy listening cinema” can suckle on this shitty teat as much as they like. It’s a scabrous remake of stillborn perfection, a mild, obnoxiously mundane, tediously vacuous film devoid of the heart-n-soul that made the ’82 version so beloved. Film fans should be appalled that Annie was ever remade, let alone remade as a piece of trashy, knuckle-dragging cinema such as this.