A millionaire takes in a foster child as part of a campaign for mayor, and is won over by her.
Will Gluck, 2014
Ten year old Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) is a foster child who lives with the abusive Ms Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who took in Annie and four other girls for the money. Every week she goes back to the restaurant where her parents abandoned her at the age of 4 in the hopes that they might return. One day, while trying to save a dog, she bumps into Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), who then saves her from an oncoming car. His heroic act is caught on camera, and his campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) gets the misanthropic Stacks to take Annie in for a little while. She moves in to his fancy loft apartment with her new dog Sandy, and Stacks takes her to various events for photo opportunities. With the help of his assistant Grace (Rose Byrne), the bubbly, optimistic Annie starts to warm grinchly Stacks’ heart. However, once she’s served her purpose, the villainous Guy and Ms Hannigan team up to throw a wrench in the works.
Annie is a great, classic story, with a lot of topics socially relevant in modern society: class differences, children who slip through the cracks, and optimism. The musical has some great, catchy Broadway-style songs. Annie is a kid that a lot of little girls can look up to, and it’s so exciting to see them give a little black girl a shot at the role, particularly one as talented as the brilliant Quvenzhane Wallis, who lights up the screen every time she appears. So how did they make this movie so badly? The songs sound terrible, the plot is a muddled mess, and even the message becomes weirdly cynical in these filmmakers’ hands. There’s a section about how saying no just means you’re scared to say yes (not the message you want to send little girls, movie). A whole chunk of the movie, including a horrendous original song performed entirely in a helicopter, is about how anyone can make it if they seize the opportunities given to them, or make their own opportunities. This is in a film with two black leads about a child in the foster system who has literally been neglected or abandoned by every support system in her life. The movie’s original twist is made more confusing by the inclusion of Guy, who is played by a gamely mugging Bobby Cannavale. The pacing is awkward, with a very slow period featuring two terrible original songs and a sudden ending, and everything comes to the characters much too easily except for the relationship between
Daddy Warbucks Stacks (WHY DID THEY CHANGE HIS NAME?!) and Annie, which evolves fairly naturally.
As I mentioned, Wallis is terrific. She’s easily the best Annie I’ve seen, plucky and sweet without being cloying. Her singing voice isn’t the strongest, but she sells it well. Jamie Foxx, who IS a good singer, sounds terrible in this movie anyway, so clearly talent isn’t an indicator of whether or not you’ll sound any good in Annie. They cast Tracie Thoms, Rent’s Tracie Thoms, the woman who belted out Seasons of Love and Take Me or Leave Me on Broadway, and they don’t let her sing; they cast Rose Byrne, who is lovely and seems to be enjoying herself but is not a good singer, and gets her to sing a number of songs. It doesn’t matter that much anyway, as the songs are all badly shot, the songs from the original musical are horribly remixed (only “It’s a Hard Knock Life” really works), and the original songs are horrendously written. One of them, a yawn-worthy sound crime performed by Annie, Ms Hannigan and Stacks, rhymes “it” with “it” and ends lines a beat short. It’s a shame, because the cast are really throwing themselves into the film. This has all the opportunity to be a good update of a classic, and squanders all of it. I do hope it does well so that we get to see more movies with little black girls in the lead, and I wish I could rate it higher, but it isn’t good. I’m gonna give a whole star just so that Quvenzhane’s star will rise higher.
Annie on IMb