There’s room for interpretation of the 1977 musical Annie, but perhaps this one is a little too far removed from its source material. Borderline obnoxious and terribly miscast, the picture struggles to drum up moxie and sentiment in a mechanical fashion, highlighting director Will Gluck’s inexperience with movie musicals, or maybe with music in general.
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
It’s the new Annie, where the girls aren’t orphans, the dog is just a prop, and no one can sing without auto-tune.
Abandoned by her parents when she was four years old, Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) has been raised in a foster home run by alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). Keeping optimistic that one day she’ll see her birth parents again, Annie retains her impossible spirit.
Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is a mobile phone mogul looking to make a mayoral run in New York City, with assistants Guy (Bobby Cannavale) and Grace (Rose Byrne) trying to keep the impulsive man on track.
When Will saves Annie from being hit by a speeding car, video footage of the event goes viral, allowing the public to see a softer side of the candidate.
Seizing the opportunity for positive publicity, Guy arranges for Annie to move in with Will, offering her a home in a luxurious apartment. Annie attempts to bond with Will, who slowly comes around to the girl’s charms.
The material is no longer about Depression-era longing, but contemporary life. Annie is not an orphan and the hard knock life doesn’t seem particularly punishing. The foster girls are handled with care for the most part, making the iconic cleaning number more about nailing a popular song than showcasing the children’s hardship.
Stacks is transformed into a raging germaphobe, giving Purell a ripe bit of product placement, and Annie is turned into a Twitter sensation.
The screenplay (by Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna) elects to hit the tech highlights of Annie’s pairing with Stacks instead of exploring its emotional impact. He shows his new daughter the expanse of his “smart home” and shares helicopter rides with her to check the integrity of cell towers (also the setting for an awkward duet).
Filling the void is Grace, who’s secretly in love with Stacks, and Guy, who conspires with Hannigan. There’s also a minor beat concerning Annie’s illiteracy, which is about as close to adversity as Gluck is willing to get. Sandy the dog is thrown in, too, but mostly for show.
Gluck leaves the musical numbers sparse, which is a smart move. The dance choreography is stiff and, other than Foxx, the cast is left to depend on studio assistance to help them struggle through the songs, losing the magic of a soundtrack that’s endured for nearly four decades.
The intent of the original show remains, hoping to warm hearts, but the new Annie feels too calculated, with liberal applications of auto-tune scraping out its soul.