By: Steven Johnston
Will Gluck’s adaptation of Annie updates the time, place, and circumstances of the 1977 Broadway original, retelling a classic story for our social media age, but Annie never quite matches the original story’s charm. Despite its weaknesses, Annie will probably satisfy its intended audience, children and families, but it won’t become a film classic by any stretch.
Annie succeeds only when Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) is on the screen. Wallis, following up her star making and Academy Award nominated roll in Beasts of the Southern Wild, turns in another performance that demonstrates that she’s more than just a cute kid; she’s a movie star, holding the screen, and captivating the audience with the sheer power of her charm. Unfortunately, Gluck has orphaned her in a touch and go adaptation where nearly every other character feels miscast at times.
Annie also comes to theaters under something of a dark cloud. Annie was gestating a long time in pre-production, having originally been planned as a vehicle for producers’ Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s daughter, Willow. The long baking time hasn’t helped the adaption very much, the script feels stale and oddly dated – featuring references to YOLO, hurricane sandy, and an ill-timed jab at Kim Jong-Un which all feel a bit last year. That reminds me, Annie was also leaked by the Guardians of the Peace in retaliation for the company’s treatment of Kim Jong-Un in the unrelated Sony title, The Interview.
The music is intermittently great. Wallis and the other young actresses playing the foster kids do a great job on new arrangements of “Maybe” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” and Wallis shines in her rendition of “Tomorrow” and the original song “Opportunity,” the rest of the music is merely serviceable. Jamie Foxx has his usual movie star charm as the germaphobic Will Stacks (an updated Daddy Warbucks with shades of Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg), but when he starts singing – he stops acting, so that all of Will Stacks’ songs are performed by Jamie Foxx as Jamie Foxx.
In supporting roles, Cameron Diaz and Bobby Cannavale have the unenviable tasks of following Carol Burnett and Tim Curry in their respective roles. Diaz seems to have been cast for her name recognition rather than her ability to sing – or even act her way through a song. I have seen community theater productions of Annie with better renditions of “Easy Street.”
Despite these casting problems, and the updated music that doesn’t match the original songs’ quality, Annie remains reasonably entertaining. Ms. Wallis is wonderful as Annie, and she proves that she can do anything she wants. Assuming she stays grounded, she will be writing her own ticket by the time she’s a teenager. Sony, Gluck, and the Smiths also deserve credit for demonstrating how classic American stories from less enlightened eras can be reimagined to be more inclusive of all Americans despite the way they look or where their ancestors came from.
In the final analysis, Annie is an uneven film. It’s intermittently charming and disappointing, but features another stand out performance from Quvenzhane Wallis ensuring that we will be seeing her again and hopefully very soon, maybe even tomorrow.