Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis), a young foster kid, is tough enough to survive her foster mother Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), and on the streets of New York. Her life changes however, when she encounters Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a man who is running for Mayor and realises he needs to foster Annie to make his campaign more successful.
Annie is a musical for the ages, and has been revived countless times on stage all around the world. The songs are catchy, the title character is filled with pluck and charm and of course, it has a happy ending. All the elements of success are there in this remake, but the trouble is, they never quite come together.
I have been a fan of Quvenzhané Wallis since she broke my heart with her performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild – no really, people stopped me on the street after that screening to ask me if I was OK, that’s how much I cried – and have been watching her career ever since. On paper, and on viewing her performance in her first film, it seems that she would be the ideal choice to play Annie, but it seems that the feeling behind her eyes that made Beasts director Benh Zeitlin hire her has disappeared. Perhaps it is because she is now 11, and heading to that awkward age, perhaps she has read her own press or perhaps she is simply badly directed but everything about Wallis’s performance here feels forced, contrived and slightly awkward.
We already know Jamie Foxx can sing, and he seems to have fun with his role as the businessman whose heart is melted by Annie. Similarly Cameron Diaz has a great time camping up her role as Miss Hannigan and, although her over the top performance does not always fit the tone of the film, she is always fun to watch. Rose Byrne is sweet and gentle as Grace, Bobby Canavale seems to forget this is not a stage play in his role as Guy, and David Zayas is sweet and warm as Lou.
Will Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna’s screenplay desperately tries to bring Annie into 2014, and uses every conceivable piece of tech and social media to do so; Stack’s house is voice activated, smart phones are used to track people, and OMG! Katy Perry even tweets about the plucky little Annie. Sigh. The rest of the screenplay is fine, even though characters change on a dime, and everything is drawn out for the sake of drama or inserting emotion. As well as this, it seems that many of the characters are defined by lines in their song; Annie sings ‘I just stick out my chin and grin…’ in Tomorrow, and that’s pretty much all she is allowed to do for the entire film. There are some amusing moments though – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being credited with a fictional movie for one, and Foxx’s talking during the movie – but the laughs and drama don’t balance properly.
Sia’s new mixes and original songs for the film work fine, but there is a definite range of singing talent in the film. Diaz makes her voice work for her character, Wallis’s suits the vulnerability that lies under Annie’s tough exterior, but Rose Byrne’s voice is lacking.
As director, Gluck seems to have no idea how to direct a musical for the screen, with many of the songs taking place as characters awkwardly stand around looking at one another. If this is a heightened reality, then it’s not heightened enough to carry the songs, the saccharine and the over the top feel of the film. As well as this, the pacing is all over the place, meaning the film drags its heels more than once.
In all, Will Gluck’s Annie is overly sentimental, contrived and awkward. Diaz and Foxx obviously have fun with their roles, but Quvenzhané Wallis is so over directed that she has lost the spark that made her special. The pacing of the film is a mess, the tone runs from over the top to muted, and not even the cameos from Rihanna and Sia can make Annie work as well as it should on paper.