Friday, December 19, 2014


ANNIE (Will Gluck, 2014)

Although Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) was abandoned at an Italian restaurant at the age of four, the plucky Harlem foster kid remains confident that she’ll be happily reunited with her parents. In ANNIE the ten-year-old waits outside the eatery every Friday night in anticipation that mom and dad will return for her. In the meantime she’s in the care of Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who provides shelter and little else for Annie and four other girls. Miss Hannigan is still bitter about her failed singing career in the 1990s and spends her alcohol-soaked days lamenting what might have been.

Annie’s prospects improve, at least for the time being, when cell phone mogul Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) crosses her path. Video of him saving her from being hit by a van goes viral and boosts his flagging New York City mayoral campaign. Stacks’ campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) recognizes Annie as a golden opportunity to broaden his candidate’s appeal, so he convinces the billionaire to become her temporary guardian. Instead of moving into the group home Miss Hannigan was threatening to send her to, Annie settles into a penthouse overlooking Manhattan. Beyond the public relations advantages she gives him, Stacks is slow to warm up to Annie, leaving her care to his personal assistant Grace (Rose Byrne).

Director and co-writer Will Gluck’s modernized musical remakes Broadway through what’s popular on the radio. Showtunes are adapted with hip hop beats and AutoTuned vocals that play it exceedingly safe rather than tapping into the innovation in today’s rap, R&B, and DJ culture. The closest this version of ANNIE has to a memorable production number is when “It’s a Hard Knock Life” uses the sounds of straightening up the foster home to add STOMP-like percussion. The singing and dancing are adequate, with Diaz faring best in a scenery-chewing solo and a duet with Cannavale.

What ANNIE lacks in terms of belters and hoofers, it makes up for in personality. Wallis comes across as a sweet, streetwise kid whose hardships haven’t soured her outlook on life. Her Annie is not a precocious foster child, just a quick study when it comes to understanding her place in the system. Foxx avoids becoming maudlin as his career-focused character allows this little girl to soften him up. He’s also funny doing a number of spit-takes, especially when they’re ill-timed on the campaign trail. As a surrogate mother of sorts to Annie, Byrne shares some tender moments Annie make it easy to root for the happy ending for everyone that is sure to come. Diaz and Cannavale are likably unlikable as they scheme to use Annie for their selfish interests, and the celebrity cameos in a fake movie within the movie are an amusing treat.

At times the updated references scream of trying too hard--enough with the hashtags to signal that one is plugged in--but overall ANNIE makes an easy transition from its original Great Depression setting to today. The lack of crassness is the best carryover from ANNIE’s origins. Rather than trying to subvert the pie-eyed optimism of its source, this version dials back the irrepressible enthusiasm to a more prudent level while never feeling as if it needs to be more cynical or vulgar to appeal to a new generation or wider audience.

Grade: B-

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