I have a confession to make.
I love Annie. I always have.
I know. I know. Mr. Cynical likes one of the purest and most upbeat musicals one could possibly find?
Yep. It's true.
I've never considered Annie to be a brilliant stage musical or a brilliant film, but whether I'm watching it on stage or on screen I find myself completely immersed in its bright and shiny world.
So, I will also confess that I may be one of the very few people who was actually looking forward to this re-imagining of Annie starring Quvenzhané Wallis, a 2012 Oscar nominee for her debut screen performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. I said it then and I'll say it again now - Wallis can act and while there's likely no Oscar nomination to be found this time around, though she did snag a Golden Globe nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Musical/Comedy, Wallis is just as mesmerizing this time around and a more authentic, less belting type of singer than most of the actresses who have taken on this iconic role.
Purists scoffed almost immediately after this Annie was announced and not just because the usual bright-eyed redhead was being replaced by the similarly bright-eyed but decidedly not redheaded Wallis along with Jamie Foxx taking over the role of Will Stacks, an updating of the Daddy Warbucks character. It became apparent rather early on that Director Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends With Benefits) was being faithful to the spirit but not to the actual plot and music of the original Annie.
As a certain Disney character would say, "Let it go."
Annie is not a perfect movie musical. In fact, it's far from it. In fact, the soon to be released Into the Woods is superior in just about every way. But, Annie is a good-hearted, warm, fuzzy, and fun couple of hours that will work for the entire family and will likely introduce yet another younger generation to the life-affirming experiences of this lovable orphan or, as she prefers to be called, foster kid.
The best news of all is that Quvenzhané Wallis is truly up to the task of playing the perceptively precocious Annie, who is introduced to us here as Annie B. in a tip o' the hat to the original film by immediately following a certain familiar redhead whom we've all come to know and love as Annie. This time around, she's a foster kid still living with a small group of other foster kids under the jaded and cynical pseudo-guidance of Ms. Hannigan, played here by a too broad and miscast Cameron Diaz. Fortunately, it's not long before Annie has her initial encounter with Will Stacks (Foxx), a telecommunications billionaire pouring millions of his own cash into a mayoral campaign that he's still losing. A germ-phobic and largely asocial man consumed with a corporate commitment for "no dropped calls," Stacks rescues Annie from a near car accident and, before long, a clip of his act goes viral and his polling numbers start to rise. Realizing their on to something good, Will follows the advice of his key advisors, Grace (Rose Byrne) and Guy (Bobby Cannavale) and invites Annie temporarily into his home.
It's rather obvious that sincerity isn't part of the equation.
Of course, this is Annie and eventually this lovable little foster kid from Harlem will win him over even as she continues to dream of finding her parents.
The first thing to note that is that Gluck hasn't include all of the tunes from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin and, with undeniably mixed results, he's added in a couple of tunes including the disappointing and inexplicably Golden Globe-nominated "Opportunity." In a cinematic world where distraction is often the name of the game, Gluck keeps things remarkably straightforward and this often leads to tame and even lame results. Jamie Foxx, arguably the film's best singer, takes an odd and borderline creepy approach to "The City's Yours," embodying the film with a sensuality that seems awkward given that he's singing it to an 11-year-old girl. Other tunes just plain fall flat such as the disappointingly forced "Little Girls" from Miss Hannigan to Diaz and Cannavale's pretty close to awful "Easy Street."
Now then, if it sounds like I'm describing anything but a movie with a "B" grade then you can rest assured that there was an awful lot of Annie that I absolutely adored and most of it occurred when Wallis was on the screen. As might be expected, the film's highlight may very well be a soulful and emotionally resonant "Tomorrow" along with a stagey yet energetic and fun "It's A Hard Knock Life." Wallis salvages "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," performed as a duet with Rose Byrne's Grace, while Sia gets a chance to croon away on "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."
I will acknowledge that I wasn't exactly excited when I heard that Foxx had been cast in the lead. While Foxx is perfectly fine within a certain limited range, he's never really radiated the kind of warmth and spirit that one looks for in a Daddy Warbucks/Will Stacks kind of character. That said, Foxx has a warm and believable chemistry with Wallis and the two shine when they share the screen. On the flip side, while Rose Byrne is a fine actress she feels a little restrained here and her chemistry with Foxx, which has more than few innocently romantic undertones, is far less believable.
Annie isn't a brilliant film, but it is a film that I enjoyed and left feeling better than when I entered the theater. It's a few days now since I've seen the film's promo screening and I'm still finding myself singing several of the film's tunes, both the classics and the newer ones. As someone who preached high and low to anyone who would listen that I truly believed that Wallis's Beasts of the Southern Wild performance wasn't just a fluke and certainly wasn't just her being herself, it's exciting to see the young actress tackle a remarkably different type of role and, if not hit a home run, at least hit a solid triple.
If your family's looking for a fun, spirited, affirming, and good-hearted activity for everyone this Christmas season, Annie will leave a smile on your face even as you leave the theater thinking about everything that didn't work.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic