Film review: Annie

This new Annie is a charmless and grossly materialistic bore, especially for those of us of a certain age who still hold the ’82 version in high regard.
Cameron Diaz, left, portrays the mean foster mum in Annie. Columbia Pictures / AP Photo
Cameron Diaz, left, portrays the mean foster mum in Annie. Columbia Pictures / AP Photo

Director: Will Gluck

Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx

Two stars

It’s impossible to talk about ­Annie without disclosing up front what age you were when you first experienced John Huston’s 1982 film version.

For those who were adults at the time, it was a spectacular disaster, thanks in large part to Huston’s bizarre ­direction.

For those who were kids, it is up there with The Sound of Music as a musical classic. This is one of the reasons children don’t write movie reviews – but it also helps to remind us all that sometimes it won’t even occur to them that the movie they’re watching is bad.

In that way, perhaps this new version of Annie is the update we all deserve: a flawed movie that kids will inexplicably take to. But with such a wealth of innovative and heartfelt family fare in the animated and live-action realms, why bother?

The best that can be said of this version is that Will Gluck and company have certainly made the story, and most of the songs, their own.

But, aside from points for originality, this new Annie is a charmless and grossly materialistic bore, especially for those of us of a certain age who still hold the ’82 version in high regard.

Annie has always been a strange beast, with its grand New Deal politics juxtaposed with the tale of a rich saviour taking in a plucky orphan.

Here, Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a foster kid living with a handful of pre-teen girls under the lazy supervision of Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) in her Harlem apartment.

Diaz, channelling an early Christina Aguilera, yells at the girls with such an unnatural shrill that it fails at being cruel, comedic or drunken. This is no Carol Burnett slapstick.

But life doesn’t actually seem that bad for Annie. She and her foster-friends are clothed and fed and attend clean, friendly schools. They even seem to like Hannigan, except when she makes them clean. A hard- knock life, indeed. No, this is not the dire, hopeless situation of a blighted Depression-era orphanage. Still, Annie wants out and is determined to find the perfect parents. Fine, fair enough.

She runs into billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) – aloof, distant and in the middle of a mayoral campaign. In Annie, his team sees an opportunity to make him more relatable to the average voter. All they need is a few press-friendly moments with the cute foster kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

We all know the story. What starts as a cynical political tactic turns real as Stacks realises he can care about someone else.

It’s how they get there that is the problem. Gluck, who made the delightful, self-aware teen comedy Easy A, proves inept at staging and filming the musical numbers.

There is little choreography to speak of and the singing, across the board, is on-key mediocrity, auto-tuned to death.

Wallis, who displayed preternatural talent and strength at the age of 8 in Beasts of the Southern Wild, has been directed to play 11-year-old Annie as a self-assured brat. She and Foxx do share a few sweet moments, but their connection mostly comes across as superficial – like nearly everything in this movie.

This Annie was supposed to be for a new generation. In the harsh light of 2014, it’s never looked so dated.

Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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