Having being tortured by the borderline pathological repeat of the original ‘Annie’ (82) by a particularly over zealous family member, and given the overwhelmingly negative reception of the new version, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this (both are loosely based on the 1977 Broadway musical), but figured why not give it a go – it is always good to remain open minded when it comes to film generally. Surprisingly, it is actually a lot of fun – due in no small measure to the adult parts being well written and delivered by the likes of Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale and Stephanie Kurtzuba. Annie herself is played by Quvenzhané Wallis and she appears to be significantly better off than her 80’s counterpart, living in what seems to be a fairly warm and safe foster home rather than an orphanage for example.
She does have to put up with Diaz stropping around and being a general bitch to the girls, but it’s not like she’s renting them to the local Catholic priest for smack or anything, and it isn’t long before Foxx’s Will Stacks, who is running for New York City Mayor, has a fateful encounter with the young lass and invites her to come and live with him to increase his rating in the polls, quickly bonding with her and realising what has been missing from his work centric bachelor lifestyle – a young vulnerable homeless girl in his bed. His spare bed that is, though his serpentine public affairs manager (Cannavale) does complicate matters by trying to use her status for his own profit. There are songs aplenty and at least half of them are quite good – a couple from the original musical survive but the rest are newly penned with principal cast members all performing in the recording studio.
Unfortunately, the songs have been produced via heavy use of Auto-Tune, which is effectively cheating and explains why there is an eerie similarity between them all – and it further sheds light on why when we’re given clear indication Cameron Diaz is about to skydive off tune she doesn’t, in reality she probably did exactly that. Diaz is up for a Razzie for this which is a little unfair – she is ironically completely in character here as the sort of pantomime bad guy who’s ultimately not that bad.
In tandem with post production vocal manipulation is the similar falsification of Annie herself – gone is the struggling orphan with the strong sense of what is right and an earnest belief in hope, whose character was formed by, and endured, adversity. This Annie seems all too comfortable with the cushy environment she is thrust into – Wallis received much critical acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination for this but if anything when she’s around her chums at the foster home they all appear to be better performers than she is. I think perhaps being a young girl of eleven and being told how wonderful you are all the time (being the youngest person ever nominated for the best actress Oscar for ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ in 2013 etc.) is not the greatest environment in which to get into the character of supposedly poor and hard up against it Annie, and whilst she has lots of shouty energy this does not in itself make her an acting prodigy, it simply makes her an irate little girl. Could it be Hollywood is busy creating a MONSTER? Time will surely tell, although her singing certainly appears to be very impressive – but with the technique they used it’s very difficult to tell how much is her and how much is being churned out by a machine.
If you aren’t too concerned about the lack of any real emotional depth or anything but the barest scent of a moral lesson to learn then the film is quite fun, and I see no reason that youngsters wouldn’t enjoy it. Rose Byrne in particular delivers exactly the right warm touch, and at one point she sarcastically refers to Foxx as Batman : Jamie Foxx would be a completely awesome Batman, an at least ten times more respectable choice than Batpuss Ben Affleck. Affleck is apparently going to channel his rage into the character, the rage he no doubt feels at the internet calling him a gigantic pussy that will have criminals rolling around laughing in puddles of their own wee – I mean seriously, if you were a hoodlum would you be scared of Ben Affleck growling in a costume? You might surrender out of pity.