Written by Marisa Carpico
Annie (2014) Plot Summary:
When foster child Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is pulled out of oncoming traffic by New York City mayoral candidate and cell phone company magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), she becomes a minor celebrity and his polling numbers improve. Recognizing a mutually beneficial opportunity–getting her away from her mean, alcoholic foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) and improving his likability amongst voters–Stacks becomes Annie’s temporary caretaker. Soon, Annie starts to improve more than just Stacks’s chances of getting elected.
It’s rare that a film tells you everything you need to know about it within its first five minutes, but that’s exactly what Annie–a remake and update of the beloved Broadway musical and somewhat less beloved film–does. It opens on the kind of Annie you expect to see: a red-haired white girl desperate to please who breaks into song and tap dance in the middle of a school presentation. She’s obviously supposed to be a figure of ridicule, even the teacher rolling his eyes at her obnoxious, very Broadway spunk. He then calls Annie B., short for Bennett, up to the front of the class to give her report. This Annie, the one for a new, cooler generation, is caught day-dreaming and then strides to the front with a confident swagger, dismissing her teacher’s concern that she doesn’t have anything written down by explaining she has it all memorized. She then leads her classmates in a clapping routine as she extols the virtues of hard work exemplified by FDR’s New Deal policies. It is even worse than it sounds.
There is a lot of money up on the screen, from the stars (Cameron Diaz! Jamie Foxx! Rose Byrne!) to the sets, but there’s absolutely nothing of worth in the movie. Director Will Gluck, who seemed perfectly adequate when he made Easy A, proves to be profoundly talentless here. The musical numbers, in keeping with the commitment to cool nonchalance, contain little dancing and when they do, the moves are amateurish. Gluck films them in such maddeningly choppy close-ups and medium shots that they lack any semblance of coherence, let alone flow. This wouldn’t be so terrible if the music were at least listenable, but Gluck and Co. have for some reason decided to take the only good thing about the musical– the music –and butcher it beyond recognition or melody.
Take “Easy Street” for instance, a fun song sung by two of the only cast members who can actually carry a tune: Bobby Cannavale and Cameron Diaz. The music is so processed, so aggressively made to sound like generic pop instead of show tunes that it is forgettable even as you’re listening to it. Cannavale and Diaz try their darnedest in the scene (and throughout the film) to inject any sort of life into the movie, but they’re fighting a losing battle. Rose Byrne, likewise, tries and has the movie’s one great scene when her character neurotically and embarrassingly insists that she has friends and work isn’t her whole life. Still, much as they all try, the problem is still inescapably due to Annie.
Listen, nobody wants to hate on a little girl, but 11-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis should not be in this movie. What made her debut performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild interesting was that it was pure and unaffected. Her performance here feels aggressively unconcerned. Like her character, Wallis seems to put little effort into her scenes and she and the film expect the audience to be charmed without actually trying to do so. This could be excused if Wallis were at least a good singer, but she is anything but. Her voice is so auto-tuned it sounds almost robotic, but even that can’t help her complete lack of annunciation. Scarcely a word sounds clear or humanoid. Willow Smith, of the whipped back and forth hair, was originally set to star and you have to wonder why her parents Will and Jada Pinkett decided not to let their daughter star in this trash, but still saw fit to produce it. Perhaps next time they should do us all a favor and scrap the whole thing.