I first heard about this year’s remake of Annie when it was bizarrely suggested that Emma Thompson was to be the pen behind the screenplay. In the intervening months it seems as though this rumour remained just that, but my interest in the updated version of the classic musical stayed intact due to casting, the potential of a reworked songbook and, as has been stated many times in the past, my love for a good old cinematic song and dance.
Annie, keeping the core themes and story of it’s original source material, tells the story of a young parentless girl (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) with endless optimism whose life is changed for the better after meeting and befriending a rich benefactor, in this case billionaire businessman and aspiring politician William Stacks (Jamie Foxx). Though the setting has been updated to modern day New York, all of the story’s familiar characters are present including Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) as Annie’s less then capable, alcoholic foster mother and the protagonist’s faithful dog Sandy is successfully weaved in to the contemporary adaptation. Upon consideration I feel that it probably was the right time to bring a new, more relatable version of this beloved tale to the big screen for a whole new generation of viewers, but sadly I do not think that this particular offering was most enjoyable form an updated edition could have taken. The crux of the matter is that, rather oddly given it’s genre, the film falls completely flat whenever a musical interlude takes place. Give or take perhaps two entertaining performance set pieces, the contemporary feeling, auto tuned to death numbers become something of a chore to witness, and that is something that is, to put it plainly, terminally damaging to a musical. Memorable and pop culture spanning songs such as Tomorrow and Hard Knock Life, songs that should be full of life and vibrancy, seem small and rushed. Brief highlights can be found in I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here and I Don’t Need Anything But You, but overall the quality of the numbers is painfully low. The narrative weaved around these poorly executed songs is inoffensive enough, but a heavy and gimmicky featuring of smartphone technology and gadgetry will only serve to date the film over time. The film’s central themes of friendship, family and acceptance, though, are universally timeless, and there is some enjoyment to be found in the way that the narrative portrays these themes in a pleasant if not slightly predictable way. In fact, some of Annie’s best moments come via the dialogue laden scenes in the film that allow the story to be told in a form with which the actors on screen look much more comfortable, but these moments are few and far in between and are unceremoniously disturbed by the occurrence of a long line of rather feeble and patience testing musical breaks.
Whilst some elements of Annie’s casting were successful, other decisions left me to ponder what casting director Kathleen Chopin must have been drinking at the time. Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx are both perfectly enjoyable in the film’s two central roles, displaying a believable chemistry and engaging partnership. Whilst Wallis’ singing voice is helped by perhaps overzealous degrees of autotune, Foxx is more than capable of carrying as witnessed in his Oscar winning performance in Ray. Though Wallis is tasked with a much easier job than her previous mainstream work in Beasts Of The Southern Wild, the young actress certainly shows glimpses of being one to watch for the future, though only time will tell if she is able to break free from the chains of child stardom. Rose Byrne as Stack’s assistant gives arguably the most enjoyable performance in the entire picture, delivering the handful of truly amusing lines within the script and holding her own with Fox and Wallis during her musical opportunities. Where Chopin’s casting journeys in to the realms of the bizarre, though, is in the giving of Miss Hannigan to Cameron Diaz. Diaz is quite simply terrible in the part, and though she has clearly been asked to play the role in the most camp and most caricatured way possible, her Miss Hannigan in both speaking and singing borders on unwatchable.
Overall, Annie is a film made with good intentions that sadly falls way short of complete, or even middling, success. There is some enjoyable talent on display in the form of Wallis, Foxx and Byrne, but Cameron Diaz will surely want the cinema viewing public to hastily forget her portrayal of Miss Hannigan that is memorable in all the wrong ways. In truth the film feels very much like a made for television affair, boasting none of the viv and verve that more successful recent film musicals have shown. All of the ideas for turning a vintage musical tale in to a fun contemporary retelling were there, but 2014’s Annie fails to reach the potential that was certainly there. Perhaps one for the Netflix queue to be saved for guilty pleasure viewing, but certainly not one for the DVD shelf and certainly not one that will be enthusiastically remembered.