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Categories: Movie Reviews

Annie, a modern update of the popular broadway play and 1977 film, is out now in theaters. The movie musical is directed by Will Gluck and stars Quvenzhané Wallis as the titular Annie.

It’s a hard-knock life after all for Annie fans everywhere this holiday season, as Will Gluck’s millennial remake is a cringeworthy, nauseating over-production rife with product placement and cliche jabs at viral media that lacks in the musical quality or energy that make good musicals enjoyable. 

Quvenzhané Wallis stars in the lead role as Annie, an orphan who lives with four other girls in a foster home  run by the drunken ex-singer Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). The Oscar-nominated child actress is cute enough to brighten up certain scenes with her boldness and confidence, but her performance is ultimately dragged down by the glum, mechanical dialogue provided by Gluck and Aline Brosh Mckenna’s lazy screenplay. The songs from the original provide smiles, but everything in between ranges from the routine to the laughable to the downright embarrassing. 

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I hadn’t seen the original, and have no intention of seeing it after sitting through this, but references here and there gave me a basic idea of what I was to expect going into the film. Annie is an orphan living a dull life in Harlem. She gets most of her kicks from singing her heart out while she rushes around New York City to get to and from school, home, the store and the Italian restaurant where she was left as a baby. She waits there for hours every night to see if her parents will ever come back.

Annie’s singing is central to the story’s spirit, with highlights being the well-known songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard-Knock Life”.

The vocals, however, take an unfortunate back seat, with the editors overwhelming Wallis’ soft voice with often headache-inducing musical accompaniments, many of them updated to have a more “modern” feel, which seems here to mean over-production and autotune. 

Wallis is a good singer, but she was definitely chosen for her acting talents. Her voice is melodic, but lacks the energy needed to carry songs, and so she’s accompanied and even overshadowed by other singers whenever the plot allows it. While Annie is performing one of her numbers, the film often seems focused more on vocal quality as opposed to passion and fun (see: Jamie Foxx’s character in Dreamgirls), and so the centerpieces of the film – the voices – seem restrained and glazed over, as if we’re meant to forget we’re watching a musical. 

When Jamie Foxx comes along as Will Stacks, a billionaire phone designer running for Mayor of New York who decides to become Annie’s temporary guardian after saving her from a speeding truck, the vocal quality of the film improves significantly, though the songs he’s given to show off his talents are forgettable at best, fading into the musical haze of the film’s attempts at originality. 

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As Stacks shows Annie the perks of a life of luxury and Annie warms his heart to the joys in the simple things, the film gains some spirit and there are some genuinely warm scenes. We’re never really given ample time to appreciate moments, the camera flitting between shots erratically like an over-excited child (see: Dreamgirls, though this is way worse), but Wallis and Foxx have enough comic chemistry to make their scenes watchable to some extent. 

Rose Byrne joins the cast as Stack’s assistant who does a lot of the real care-taking of Annie, and seems to have a lot of fun in her role. It’s bittersweet, because her enjoyment translates to songs that seem more like singing and dancing at a karaoke party than well-choreographed musical numbers. In a weird way that’s a good thing; at least Byrne is able to bring life to a film that is elsewhere lacking in the childlike enjoyment that make musicals like Annie special. 

Cameron Diaz’ performance is the worst of the bunch, over-acting her character to laughable levels that will leave you either laughing uncontrollably or literally nauseous (I actually felt sick to my stomach in a few scenes, not all of them Diaz-related).

She doesn’t seem like the problem as much as an extension of the script, one of the most formulaic and processed in recent memory.

Like Byrne, she has fun doing the karaoke her role requires, and makes some of the jokes funnier than they should be (though the only times I laughed in the movie were at adult euphemisms that presumedly won’t connect with the film’s target audience).

Annie flits between silly musical numbers (the best songs, those taken from the original, are no better than annoying re-hashes) and lackluster filler story for almost two hours before finishing with a seemingly endless final sequence, though it’s one that at least provides us with the energetic musical expression we expect from this type of film. 

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In parts – certain performances and pieces of choreography – the film is passable, and the actors have harmless fun with the material. As a whole, though, the film is disappointing and sometimes even depressing. It’s weakly scripted, over-edited and lacking in much respect for its own music. 

At times you wish it wasn’t a musical, and within minutes you’re asking yourself if it is one at all. The songs don’t flow from events like they do in better musicals, instead seeming like standalone events included obligatorily.

It seems like the cast had more fun with the music than did the crew, especially as far as video and sound editing goes.

Most of Annie’s qualities that make it entertaining come from unintentional so-bad-it’s-good moments, with the actors providing the film’s only sporadic moments of excitement. The film is riddled with product placement too boring and cynical to detail, and contains generic references to Twitter and YouTube that seem more like an excuse to provide points of connection for younger audiences rather than natural details to set the scene. 

Unless you’re an Annie super-fan or you like talented actors making fools of themselves (as my Dad said, my mom would never hear the end of it if she starred in this), then give Annie a miss.

1.5 Stars out of 4.

By Cameron Johnson, interim Editor of The Spread. 

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Posted on Jan 1, 2015

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