Annie (2014) / Musical-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for some mild language and rude humor
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale, David Zayas, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Small role: Mike Birbiglia, Patricia Clarkson, Sia, Bobby Moynihan, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher
Director: Will Gluck
Screenplay: Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna (based on the comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie", by Harold Gray, and the stage musical by Thomas Meehan)
Review published December 12, 2014
Annie is 2014's updating of the 1982 musical directed by John Huston, which itself had been based on the Broadway musical adaptation of the Harold Gray comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie", but with more glitz and modern pop sensibility on the soundtrack, which features a few new songs from Sia.
The story follows the life of a New York City orphan (or is she?) named Annie (Wallis, 12 Years a Slave) who is currently living in a foster home facility run by a woman with a nasty disposition named Hannigan (Diaz, Sex Tape). Annie is pining for the day when her real parents, who left her as a baby with a note they'd promise to return, will come back to claim her, but things take a turn in her life first when crusty billionaire Will Stacks (Foxx, Horrible Bosses 2), who is running a losing mayoral campaign, decides to take her in so that he can boost his public image and gain ground in the polls.
Will Gluck, who directed the light comedies Easy A and Friends with Benefits, brings his audience-friendly talent on board for this musical, though it is interesting that the film only really comes to life through some of the musical numbers and not through the spoken dialogue or comic characterizations. Gluck not only co-scripts, but also co-produces, along with Will Smith and Jay-Z, but with such an ambitious undertaking, he's a bit out of his element trying to keep a big-time musical together tonally. If the great veteran director John Huston had a hard time with it in 1982, why would we think Gluck could fare any better?
The film, while a bit messy and increasingly less interesting as it rolls along, will be considered a misfire, there are still some moments where it manages to shine. Quvenzhane Wallis, who already has an Oscar nomination to her credits for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, takes over for the originally intended Willow Smith and does quite a remarkable job in every category -- singing, dancing, and acting. She's no one-time fluke, as many might have originally surmised.
Unfortunately, she's probably the only member of he cast that manages to give more than what's expected, with Jamie Foxx looking uncomfortable having to restrain his warm and engaging personality, and the mish-mash supporting cast of Rose Byrne (Neighbors), Cameron Diaz, and Bobby Cannavale (Chef) all giving the film requisite energy, but none of them are particularly appealing in their roles. If anything, the storyline here has been watered down considerably, to the point where Miss Harrigan's drug and alcohol abuse is only alluded to, and the Daddy Warbucks stand-in, Will Stacks, is basically a mysophobe with xenophobic tendencies. Plus, it's not set in the Depression, so Annie's fairy tale transplanting to the world of opulence isn't as pronounced, though the way Stacks lives does border on science fiction in terms of his technological toys. When the kidnapping plot sets in, it feels wholly out of place for what had been such a light build-up, which consequently makes the last half hour nearly intolerable.
Now, some people will hate the new songs, mostly because they aren't the "Annie" they know, but they don't bother me so much, probably because they already modernized the classic Annie songs to the point where they are not very distinguishable. It's a pop soundtrack for pop audiences, and given the choice to set this version of "Annie" in the modern day, it's apropos to have modern music in it. Besides, you'll always have the old version when you want your fix.
Despite the problems with the characterizations and the lack of an interesting storyline, the true test for the film will likely be among pre-teen girls, who will likely find the film colorful, lively, and charming enough to be entertained by, even if they may forget all about it a week after they see it. However, those who like the original will probably not find this 2014 version an adequate replacement in nearly any way, and will wonder why they bothered to bring back the property if they couldn't improve upon its flaws, while introducing many new ones to the mix.
What the film really lacks is a thematic message to it that makes us understand what is supposed to be important about Annie's story. Instead, we have a cobbled-together attempt to revamp a popular property to sell soundtracks and boost ticket sales among kids across a wide demographic. It's a product Daddy Warbucks himself -- errr, I mean, Will Stacks -- would be proud of pumping out to try to garner mass appeal.
©2014 Vince Leo