(PG) Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz
It is the musical remake that nobody was asking for: a loose, modern retelling of Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s beloved stage musical Annie. Gone is the traditional red hair and chirpiness of Little Orphan Annie, which this film lampoons in its opening moments. This Annie, played by Quvenzhané Wallis (from Beasts of the Southern Wild), is no orphan, she’s a foster kid and a savvy one at that.
Annie’s life is changed when she is pulled from the path of a car by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) – our substitute Daddy Warbucks – a telecommunications mogul running for Mayor of New York. The incident is captured on video and goes viral, giving Stacks a much needed bump in the polls. With Annie seemingly his election trump card, Stacks’ cynical campaign manager arranges for him to foster her for the period of the campaign.
In seeking to modernise the story the filmmakers appear to have forgotten just how important historical context is to Annie’s tale. Set in the era of the Great Depression, Annie is supposed to be a story of hope and positive thinking at a time when both were desperately needed. Rather than seeking to draw comparisons between the marginalised of the present with those of the past, which would have been a worthwhile undertaking, this Annie simply abandons context and the greater significance of the story. Instead, it comes across as off-puttingly materialistic as Annie and her friends revel in the highlife that Stacks’ wealth offers.
This lack of depth at the film’s core extends to its characters. While the cast features some strong names, their talent is largely wasted on two dimensional caricatures – be it Jamie Foxx’s workaholic, germaphobic billionaire or Cameron Diaz’s grotesque foster parent, Miss Hannigan. Even Annie herself, the film’s heart, lacks emotional depth. Young Wallis delivered one of the great child performances in Beasts of the Southern Wild, beautifully presenting the experience of a marginalised child. While obviously a very different film, it none the less makes her superficial characterisation here disappointing.
As a musical, Will Gluck’s film is without a clear and consistent vision. Many of the songs have been rewritten and arranged in a heavy, semi-hip hop style, with an overreliance on auto-tune used to cover up the fact that Foxx is the only experienced singer in the cast.
Of course, none of this will stop “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from being stuck in your head for days after viewing, but this unnecessary and cynical film simply lacks the heart that made the stage production a success.