IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE FOR THIS UPDATED MUSICAL
Annie. The name of this Broadway musical has become just as iconic as its catchy lyrical songs. Based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip titled Little Orphan Annie, this musical opened in 1977, becoming a sensational hit that spawned many productions across the globe and garnishing a Tony Award for best musical. Over the years, Annie’s popularity swelled, expanding off the Broadway stage with many adaptations that were made for film and TV, none more famous than 1982’s feature film Annie. As the 2014 year draws to a close, Sony Pictures bring a new rendition to this orphan girl to the big screenwith the film again simply called Annie. Does up-to-date version breathe new life into the Broadway classic or is it a musical miscue of a movie?
Abandoned as a child by her parents, Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) has been raised in a foster home by alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). Being perpetual optimistic that she’ll be reunited with her parents again, Annie retains an indomitable spirit with her situation as she dwells in New York City and its inhabitants. William Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is a mobile phone magnate who is looking to make quick dash to run for mayor of the NYC with assistants from his campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) and dedicated assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) to try and keep Stacks in line and up in the polls. By a chance encounter, Will saves Annie from being hit by speeding car with video footage of this event caught up on tape that immediately goes viral. Seizing an opportunity to capitalize on Stack’s election ratings, Guy arranges for Annie to move in with Will, offering luxurious comfort and accessibility to the young girl. Enjoying her new lifestyle, Annie warms up to Will, chipping away at his unfavorable personality as Will, in turn, begins find a soft spot for the plucky foster.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I stated above, the Broadway show of Annie was a undeniable hit that has been revamped, redone, and revitalized by production companies across the world since its 1977 inception and the 1982 film of Annie has shared a similar acknowledgement and praised from both critics and fans alike. Director Will Gluck presents his version of Annie in a more contemporary setting, transition the 1930 scenery with a more present day feel with technology highlights of cell phones and social media nuances that throughout the picture. There’s even a reference to a fake Twilight-ish paranormal romance movie (MoonQuake Lake), which to me was the film’s biggest laugh-out-loud moment. While Gluck’s modern spin to this tale is duly noted (Speaking to the Millennial generation), the movie is problematic. True, the movie does carry the same fundamental story of the original Broadway show, but doesn’t rise to the occasion. Clocking in roughly around two hours, the movie is too long, drawing out particular scenes and scenario that are either superfluous at best and /or left unfinished to speak of. Its script, penned by Will Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna, is too calculate and weak to elevate the film’s narrative and plays a factor in casting a negative light on this remake.
The cast of actors in Annie are mixture of known and unknown, ranging from performance that are well-casted, to okay, and even a couple of miscasts. At the top stands the film’s main star Annie, played by Quvenzhane Wallis. Wallis, most notable for her role in Beast of the Southern Wild, delivers a cute and eternal optimistic approach to Annie and does with her own style and upbeat flair. Her two co-stars, Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne, are also casted right, fitting their respective roles as William Stacks and his assistant Grace. In addition to that, Foxx and Wallis work great together, hitting their rapport marks when both are on-screen.
David Zayas’s Lou (A local drug store owner who secretly has a crush on Miss Hannigan) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Nash (Stack’s driver) are in a minor capacity in the movie, offering no reason to like or dislike their characters and are just okay in the feature. The other three foster kids, Pepper (Amanda Troya), Tessie (Zoe Margaret Colletti), and Mia (Nicolette Pierini) also have minor roles to fulfill, but get the job done as Annie’s foster siblings / friends. At the bottom, lies Bobby Cannavale’s Guy, who comes off as smarmy weasel, but not in a more cartoonish way that doesn’t work well. Cannavale has done great works in other projects, but his part Annie isn’t one of them. Below Cannavale, lies Cameron Diaz’s Miss Hannigan, who plays the character way over-the-top to the point of almost being obnoxious and trashy. While the intent of a “Behind-the-music” scenario is given to her (A former member of C + C Music Factory) to presumably beef up her character, the result is dead on arrival that leaves a sour taste in your mouth (and perhaps also in Diaz’s mouth as well).
This been a musical, the songs used in Annie are strongly emphasized in the film’s characters and storytelling, thanks to it’s inherit source material. While not all songs from the original show are featured here, the final result of these tunes is a mixture of great to almost deplorable in sound and execution. Wallis’s renditions of “Tomorrow” and “Opportunity” are really good as well as her sing “It’s a Hard Knock life”, accompanied by the other foster kids. The most catchiest and surprising song of them all is “I think I’m Gonna Like It Here”, a duet sung by Wallis and Byrne (Props to Byrne for being a non-singer singing quite well). While Jamie Foxx gets his character of William Stacks right, his sing is more auto-tuned than most as can be heard in him sing “The City’s Yours” and “Who am I?”. What’s deplorable comes from Cameron Diaz’s singing “Little Girls”, which is sung awfully, and her “Easy Street” duet with Bobby Cannavale is an awkward mess.
It’s a hard knock life indeed for this particular contemporary musical. More like a glossy facelift rather than a full blown makeover, Annie has a hard time finding its mark with an overstuffed narrative, a couple of miscasts, and a few sour musical notes. Lucky, the film still retains the primary story to the original show and as a strong and pleasant rapport within its main characters (Walls, Fox, and Byrnes) that makes the feature a little more enjoyable. Will this up-to-date movie be as memorable like its original counterpart? Probably not. Personally, I had somewhat low expectations for this movie, so I walked away with a better liking than most did. All in all, Annie is a good distraction for kids and family to watch and feel loved by those who loved you.