Do you want to know the best bit of Annie? It’s when entrepreneur Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) takes the titular orphan (Quvenzhane Wallis) to the cinema. What follows is a glimpse of MoonQuake Lake, a fake film starring cameo performances from Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher which parodies the barrage of Hollywood garbage we’ve endured in recent years. Unfortunately, this includes Annie itself.
That’s right, director Will Gluck has somehow achieved the impossible, taking a hit musical with near-classic songs, and turned it into one of the most outrageously disappointing films of the past year.
Based on the 1977 Broadway musical of the same name, this is the story of the young Annie Bennett. Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Annie lives with tyrannical foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) amongst other orphans. But when she’s not scrubbing floors and washing dishes, Annie finds time to search for her long-lost parents.
Annie then bumps into rookie politician and millionaire Will Stacks, who is fast enough to save her from certain death. When the press gets wind, Stacks suddenly finds himself public hero number one. With elections fast approaching Annie is invited to live with our would-be mayor. Surely some of that infectious charm can muster up a few extra votes? But as it turns out, Mr. Stacks has got more than he bargained for with this little orphan.
It’s the tale of a pseudo father-daughter relationship that we’ve seen countless times before, but this repetitiveness is far from the film’s only problem. More concerning is director Will Gluck’s inability to translate a renowned stage-production to the screen. Musicals are, by definition, utterly bizarre. There’s nothing stranger than two people bursting into song for no apparent reason. In the over-the-top theatre version, this is forgivable. But Gluck has opted for a realistic take, with grimy American streets and seedy inhabitants.
The resulting mix of real and surreal is difficult to digest, and entirely ruins some of the more sensitive moments. In a dingy rat-infested flat, surrounded by her fellow orphans, Annie confides in her innermost desire to reunite with her parents…with a song, a smile and a synchronised dance routine. It’s a tonally incoherent mess, which refuses to go away as the film progresses.
The writing isn’t much better. Admittedly, Diaz could have made a great pantomime-style villain as Miss Hannigan, who divides her time between screaming at kids and eyeing up every man she can find. Unfortunately, could is the operative word here. “Clean like your life depends on it” screeches Hannigan to Annie and co., “because it does”. It’s not witty, it’s not clever, it certainly isn’t funny, and thus acts as a microcosm of the film as a whole.
But every cloud has its silver lining, even if you have to search pretty hard to find it. In the case of Annie, it’s the upbeat chemistry between co-stars Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis (star of 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild). The former has previous experience with comedies such as Due Date and Horrible Bosses, which is immediately evident here.
Under Foxx’s management, moments which would otherwise have gained a wry smile instead become downright hilarious. And that’s not to mention Wallis, who somehow manages to be pitch-perfect in all the major songs whilst also providing a fine performance to counter Foxx’s ruthless millionaire.
It is not the fault of the actors that the film overall is so utterly incoherent. That blame lies firmly on the shoulders of director Will Gluck. Best known for comedies such as Easy A and Friends With Benefits, this child-friendly smile-a-thon is just clearly out of his comfort zone.
A tonally incoherent mess, which refuses to go away as the film progresses.
Ultimately, it’s the failure to balance Annie and Stack’s friendship with real drama that causes our interests to wane, but the celebration of materialism throughout Annie is truly unforgivable too. Is this film sending out the right message? Do things like money and possessions really buy us happiness? I think not, and if you’re planning on seeing it any time soon, you’d probably be best listening to the soundtrack instead.