Annie review: Great cast, shame about the movie

Film Title: Annie

Director: Will Gluck

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale

Genre: Musical

Running Time: 118 min

Fri, Jan 2, 2015, 08:00

   

Annie opens with a brief parody of, well, Annie, as a little red-haired girl (with tell-tale unmatched eyebrows) finishes a classroom presentation about US presidents with a tap dance and a smile. Her school chums groan. Enter Annie 2.0 – played by Quvenzhané Wallis – who outshines her predecessor with an impromptu rap about FDR.

It’s emblematic of a larger structural problem underlying this latest screen adaptation of the hit 1977 stage musical. Annie, the 2014 movie, really doesn’t want to be Annie: it wants to be cool. Acquired in 2011 as a vehicle for Willow Smith, the project feels like a belated, half-hearted postscript to Jay-Z’s 1998 hit, Hard Knock Life.

Sadly, if the intention was to reinvigorate the material with African-American principals and hip-hopera beats, that conceit is drowned out by a score of flatulent electronica. The original songs are truncated into briefest snatches of soulless autotune. Contemporary Annie describes the Depression era as being “like nowadays but without the internet”. The film fails to locate similar parallels and instead confuses “updating the material” with mentioning Twitter and Instagram a lot. Easy Street, all 40 seconds or so of it, now ends with the dread acronym “yolo”.

There’s a decent cast in place (Foxx , Rose Byrne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the dialogue (“I don’t even like you in Harlem, why would I like you on Facebook?”) isn’t as dreadful as many of the merciless American reviews would have you believe. Occasional outbreaks of parental chemistry between Foxx and Wallis remind us what might have been. But this is a flattened, bowdlerised project that has passed through too many hands: Cameron Diaz replaces Sandra Bullock as Miss Hannigan, Easy-A director Will Gluck has come off the bench for Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy.

The final cut feels like nobody’s child. Who exactly is this film aimed at? By desperately trying to get down with the kids, Annie will likely drive said demographic to respond with repeated face-palming.

Memo to Cameron Diaz: in the past year we’ve seen you in The Counselor, The Other Woman, Sex Tape and Annie. You’re better than this, girl.