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Annie—Movie Review

Quvenzhané Wallis as AnnieI was dreading this movie; my expectations were as low as
they could possibly be. Perhaps that’s why I came away from Annie thinking it wasn’t bad. This is a thoroughly
modernized, urbanized version of the Broadway musical, with hip-hop beats and new
songs along with the old standbys. Some of the reinvention works well, and some
is laid on with a heavy hand. But the key to any rendition of this material is
the star, and Quvenzhané Wallis has the main requisite for success: a
thousand-watt personality. She’s the primary reason I think kids (and families)
will find this Annie appealing.

Director Will Gluck, who cowrote the screenplay (with Aline
Brosh McKenna), has energized the stage musical, shed its Depression-era setting,
and added a layer of modern-day savvy and cynicism to its characters. Gone are
Daddy Warbucks and other trappings of the long-running comic strip that
inspired the Broadway show. In their place is a new storyline about a self-made
mogul (Jamie Foxx) running for mayor of New York City, and how he uses Annie as
a tool to leverage his likability in the media.

One might position this as a postmodern (or “meta”) musical,
as it has a level of self-awareness that may be unprecedented for the genre. (As
Annie and the girls sing “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” one of them stops and asks
what that expression means.) Some people will find this off-putting. Fearing the
worst, I found most of this surprisingly tolerable. (I have no affection for
the overblown 1982 movie, so there’s no point comparing the two productions.)

Foxx plays his part with gusto, and Rose Byrne does her best
as his workaholic aide who’s secretly in love with him. Bobby Cannavale makes
the most of his part as an unscrupulous campaign manager. Cameron Diaz is
miscast as a present-day Miss Hannigan, portrayed here as an alcoholic,
has-been rock singer who takes in foster kids for the money she earns from the
state. And Gluck has incorporated cameo appearances from stars of his earlier
TV shows and movies, which will bring a knowing smile to parents in the
audience, if not kids.

Jamie Foxx-Quvenzhané Wallis-Rose Byrne-Annie

Traditionalists will be happy to know that the filmmakers
haven’t monkeyed around with the show’s money song, “Tomorrow.” Some of the
other tunes fare less well. On the plus side, Gluck has made sly references to
the property’s history, naming Foxx’s mayoral opponent Harold Gray (the creator
of Little Orphan Annie) and a band
the Leapin’ Lizards. The movie even opens with Annie lecturing her schoolmates
about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and what he did for poor people during
the Depression.

With imaginative staging and choreography, Gluck maintains a
high energy level as long as he can. But Annie
overstays its welcome; the story runs out of steam but not subplots. If the
filmmakers had sharpened their focus and shortened the script they might have
pulled off their reinterpretation.

I can’t condemn what they’ve done, but I can’t muster much
enthusiasm, either. I’m glad parents have a movie they can take their kids to
see this holiday season, and I’m really
glad it’s not a complete turkey. But with all the effort and money that went
into Annie—a long-proven property on
stages around the world—it’s a shame the movie doesn’t hit a bull’s-eye. For
that, you’ll have to show your kids some great movie musicals of the past; I
can think of no better way to spend quality time over the holidays.

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