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David Poland

By David Poland

Review-ish (spoilers): Annie (2014)


Annie is not only a carwreck of a film, but it is extremely frustrating because there are rotting strands of flesh hanging off the corpse suggesting something truly interesting, complex, and compelling.

Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna, and the development team at Overbrook clearly had a lot of interesting ideas. Some make great sense, like Annie being a foster child and not an orphan as such. I have no problem with the conversion to a black Annie and Warbucks (now Will – Bill? – Stacks). I’m good with an update of the music. Making the rich guy a wannabe politician… makes great sense. Miss Hannigan as a failed performer… sure.

But the trouble really starts when these ideas—a pretty big leap —don’t seem to be enough for the filmmakers.

The movie opens by mocking the classic Annie… which is kind of an asshole move. This film is, ultimately, going to the same place. And this is not the only example of mocking homage in the movie. Sorry, folks, but you aren’t going to make The Millionaire and The Orphan Who Brings Him Humanity into something hip. Embrace the hokum. It’s in the DNA.

The first number in the film, as in the show, is “Maybe,” a sad, hopeful song about the dreams of the lost girls. And it got me. It was actually a lot more sad than any version of Annie I had ever seen. Because Quvenzhané Wallis is already presented as strong, smart, resourceful, and powerfully likable, the false hope of the song is terribly poignant. Also, there are only 5 foster kids in this incarnation. So there is something more intimate there too. But while I was feeling something, I was also fighting off overly busy direction that didn’t seem to make any sense. The girls gather on a bottom bunk, wrap a sheet in front of them, and wave flashlights against it. Why? I never found out. It was something to do. This let me know—and it only got worse—that the director didn’t trust the material just to do the show. No idea would ever be enough. It always had to be four ideas in a sequence, never letting an honest emotion flow (except one other time, which I will get to).

“It’s A Hard Knock Life,” another of the legendary numbers in the show, is another case of “if they just stopped trying so hard, this could be brilliant.” A really simple piece of instruction to the director was needed here… if the girls are so used to this situation and they are going to clean up, make sure every shot leads to the place being perfectly clean by the end. Empower the girls with actually making their efforts matter, even if Hannigan refuses to appreciate it, we, the audience, should appreciate it.

And that brings up to Miss Hannigan, a role that fits Cameron Diaz in an interesting way… except that she can’t sing or dance. The idea is really interesting. She is a failed singer. She was the “H” in the “C+C+H Music Factory” before they dropped the H. And following that a failed everything else. Okay… so why don’t we get the set-up established? She got a really nice old apartment in Harlem when she had a little money—maybe a sugar daddy—and now, she needs the $870 a month (or week… the movie is unclear) or so she gets for fostering 6 kids. The apartment can be assumed to be all that, but why no clarify it. There is gold in the details. Let’s say she gets $3,480 a month for fostering… and her rent is $2,800. How she is caring for the kids becomes obvious from that little detail. The feel of the apartment, too. All the girls are in one bedroom with three bunk beds and a bathroom with just a shower and she is in the master with a full bathroom that she doesn’t want the girls to ever see. Have one shelf for the girls in the refrigerator and all the rest for her. I’m not saying it has to be that, but that a little foundation would go a long way to make the relationship more than “comic villain vs little girls.”

Of course, the song “Little Girls” is a disaster here. Diaz doesn’t have the voice and we can feel her discomfort. But worse, we don’t really get a point of view in the song. Cameron Diaz’s Hannigan is still pining for her time as a “little girl.” The Hannigan of the original version of this show was more of a drunk spinster type. You can’t really get there watching Diaz. Something really bad happened to this woman. But she just keeps making faces.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Quvenzhané’s “Tomorrow” is the closest the movie ever gets to just letting the song do what it is meant to do. And it’s over directed and overly fussy and but like everything else in the film. But you get the sense of what this film could have been again.

“I Think I’m Going To Like It Here” is not hideous, but feels like it was all chopped up and sponsored by Microsoft as video walls dominate the images.

And then, it’s over.

You see, the second half of the film is like they threw out Annie and just did “a kinda musical kinda based on Annie that someone saw once and decided just wasn’t that good.”

“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile…” nah… don’t really need that.

“Little Girls,” as already mentioned, is terrible and doesn’t move the story along at all.

And from them, there isn’t a real song from the show until a half-ass version of “I Don’t Need Anything But You.”

The problem with the new songs is that they are instantly forgettable and don’t seem to have anything to do with the show with which so many are familiar. I get adding a song or two. But dumping most of the show from the second half is just obnoxious. It could be less painful if the new songs were good. But they are not. They are auto-tuned bellowing that seems like a bad rip-off of Foxx in Dreamgirls. Brutal.

The premiere they all attend—”Moonquake Lake,” a parody of Twilight, et al—is not realistic (the footage is… the reaction of Stacks is silly). And Stacks has to run off to do something at a Giants/Jets game… which Annie wouldn’t want to attend because… uh, uh, uh…

And then, they kill off the whole Rooster and Lily concept… Hannigan’s conman brother who shows up with the idea of getting paid off as Annie’s long-lost parents and his moll. Was this always so? I don’t know. What kind of idiot hires Tracie Thoms to be in a musical in which she never sings? But they did.

Instead, the bad guy—and a new character from the launch, taking over some of Grace’s role—is Bobby Cannavale’s Guy, a political operative. He wants to have Annie’s parents show up because he thinks it will seal the deal for Stacks’ mayoral run and he’ll get his giant longshot payday (like a consultant getting a million dollar bonus for getting a Best Picture nod for this film). So he hooks up with Hannigan, utterly fucks up one of my favorite numbers (“Easy Street”), which is half-done as a dance in a club, and makes the movie even more confusing for no reason at all.

But even worse, this version that hacks up the original song still features Diaz trying to sing. And then they make it worse again with a new three-character number in which Annie, Stacks, and Hannigan whine about their lives. Glad I didn’t have a gun or access to heroin about then.

Enter the fake parents. No real set-up. (In fact, after a ridiculous audition sequence, the fake parents just show up, surprising Hannigan as though they had been edited in during re-shoots… hmmmm…)

And then, once again… a clever idea. Annie, being kidnapped, waves at passing cars and kids Instagram and Facebook and Tweet her, allowing the good guys to track her… and making the preposterous subplot about Stacks’ cell phone company being able to follow anyone at anytime irrelevant. (They mess this idea up twice. The first time, they have the bodyguard character brag that they can find anyone anywhere and through a decade of history… then it doesn’t work. Sigh…)

But the whole scene is such a mess of unclear emotion and ideas that it returns into one of the worst car/helicopter chases ever.

Finally, Annie is safe. And they sing a song from the show again (“I Don’t Need Anything But You”), which is staged in perhaps the most random location EVER in a musical, shot badly, then auto-tuned into a barely recognizable version of the song. (I kept waiting for Cher to pull off her Jamie Foxx suit.)

As if we needed a topper here, it comes with Ms. Diaz hogging the spotlight (surely not her idea) during the big reprise of “Tomorrow” in a bit so unfunny as to make the lack of self-awareness shocking and wince-worthy.

There was a dark, weighty movie here. There are still a lot of foster kids out there. And people need love. And we are disconnected by cell phones and their electronic cousins. Wallis is a treasure. Her Oscar-nominated debut was no fluke. She has got “IT” and plenty of it.

But if you don’t trust the show, don’t do a classic musical.

If you want to do modern versions of the score, do that! Do it well. Don’t use a few familiar threads and do a different song posing as the original.

If you hire people who can’t sing, stop making up new ways for them to sing more.

There is a great line in a Bobby Moynihan cameo at the end of the film. He is watching Stacks singing and “dancing” with Annie and he says something to the effect of, “He’ll never be elected mayor if he keeps breaking out in song and dancing like that.” That was one of the very few pieces of meta that worked in this movie. And it came way too late.

Do I believe that Grace really wants Stacks? No. Do I believe that Hannigan turns out to be a good person? No. Do I really believe Stacks is bald and wearing a weak of 1/8 of an inch-long fuzz? No. Does Sandy get lost? Yes.

The only thing I really bought in this movie was Quvenzhané Wallis. And Stephanie Kurtzuba, who you will recognize as the woman who looked a lot like Jenna Elfman in The Wolf of Wall Street, turns out to be the only person with lines in this film who appears to be capable of dancing professionally, and steals every scene she is in. (Rose Byrne, Cannavale, Akinnuoye-Agbaje and others tried to do it with a straight face and I don’t blame them at all.)

It reminds me a but of The Hulk. People didn’t really care to see the Ang Lee version or the Louis Leterrier version. I am not dissing them, but… the Hulk that people were waiting for was the one in Avengers… cerebral David Banner and raging wild Hulk who actually gets laughs on purpose. Joss Whedon got it. He gave the world the movie Hulk they wanted… not a new and improved Hulk.

When you change the music in half of Annie to new compositions that are clearly not from the original composers, you are saying, “It’s okay… we know you liked that… but this will be better.” And if the audience doesn’t think they are better, watch out. There is not bigger insult to people who really love something. And Annie, like it or not, is classic Broadway. And this movie is a classic mistake of bravado, arrogance, and overthinking something that could have worked really well… in fact, could have been better than the original because the context has made it more poignant for modern audiences than a nostalgia trip.

I saw the glimmer. Then the stench overwhelmed me. Damned shame.

Finally… would the Will Smith version have been better? I don’t know. But I would guess that it would have not worked so hard to shove chartable singles (not! But they tried) into the mix. Smith sings, but he is not a singer. Foxx thinks he is a singer. The superstar who understood how well The Pursuit of Happyness could work would have, I like to believe, made similarly daring and interesting choices here (even if Overbrook is still a producer of the film). But had he been in this script with this score, yes… Will Smith would have failed, too.

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19 Responses to “Review-ish (spoilers): Annie (2014)”

  1. Hallick says:

    “The girls gather on a bottom bunk, rape a sheet in front of them, and wave flashlights against it. Why?”

    Holy crap, did Tom Fontana write that scene?

  2. Sam says:

    Ok…..never start a sentence with ‘But’ or ‘And’. Sorry, I went to catholic school and they likes their English.
    Does anyone read what they write anymore. There are so many grammar mistakes, its hard to follow whats been said.
    Is this a real review or Not?

  3. Sam says:

    Hey, maybe we can stop the reverse ‘racism’ thing and stop crowbarring blacks into old white roles. I know, how about actual real ORIGINAL parts that just happen to showcase people of color? Why not Indian or Chinese? It doesn’t always have to be Black, does it? Something to ponder…
    Lowering the bar so everyone can join is not always a good move.

  4. Shari Smith says:

    Lately I’ve seen a few movies of blacks depicting characters from original movies such as THE EQUALIZER w Denzel Washington and Jaime Foxx in Annie to mention a few. What is the problem with a black having a lead role in a movie that was originally made by a Caucasian person.
    What are you racist people afraid of or are you just threatened by us. The president of Sony I was told didn’t want Denzel for the part in the Equalizer but he did it way better than the original cast member. Times have changed interracial relationships are more widely accepted. I guess we stll have a long way to go.

  5. Pete B. says:

    Shari, you had some good points, but… better than Edward Woodward? Really?!?

  6. Megan says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with remaking an original piece and replacing the previously white characters with actors who are of different ethnic backgrounds. What I keep hearing people say is that it seems like segregation 2.0 Why do we continually make racial separations so clearcut? This review is a perfect example of this. The writer distinguished this NEW “Annie” as the “Black Annie”. Did they change the character’s name in this version? I know, some will argue that it is usually meant to make it easier to identify which movie is being discussed, but it’s still polarizing. What if they had made Mrs. Hannigan a lesbian? Would it be okay to call her, “Gay Mrs. Hannigan”, or even worse names that I won’t mention here?

    In what is becoming a noticeable trend, many movies are being made with these changes in the cast but not much other differences to actually call it a “remake”. It’s different in RACE only. Example, There was a remake of the movie, “Steel Magnolias” a while back that had a black cast. I watched it and thought the ladies did a great job but what bugged me was the fact that they hardly changed any of the script. It was almost word-for-word. This is where I see the problem arising. It’s like someone is saying, “We’ll take the entire movie and redo NOTHING but the color of the actors’ skin.” It is almost like, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, ours is better than yours!” It draws a line in the sand that seems to scream, “our film over here, your film over there.” It puts them in stark contrast with one another. I am not going to see this movie. It has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the cast, just my disdain for Jamie Foxx, so I don’t know if this movie is the racial parrot or not. Just an idea. It does seem lazy to not make each movie different and give the viewers a sense of authenticity and a new plan. Why go? I’ve already seen it!

  7. sam (the original!) says:

    Jane Lynch was Miss Hannigan for a while in the recent Broadway revival. She performed Little Girls on Glee and she would’ve been perfect and been a reason for childless adults to see it.

  8. Rick Thompson says:

    The problem isn’t remaking the original film (God knows it was no “Citizen Kane”). The problem is ripping part the original, in essence shredding it. This “Annie” is a case of false advertising, as it is plainly not the show named on the marquee — just something based on it and using some elements of it.

    You could do the original show as written with, say, Annie, Hannigan, her brother and his girlfriend black. That way the biology works out (color-blind casting is OK, but don’t ask me to believe that biology doesn’t exist). You could use a world of different combinations — but not the one they chose.

    Finally, if you don’t trust the original, and this group plainly didn’t — then DON’T DO IT!!! Write a new show that says what you want.

  9. Breedlove says:

    Diaz hogging the spotlight – surely not her idea – are you being sarcastic here? I couldn’t tell. It’s kind of an interesting aside either way but I can’t tell which way you meant it.

  10. Hallick says:

    “Lowering the bar so everyone can join is not always a good move.”

    What connection does casting a white character with a black actress have to the height of the bar? From where was it lowered?

  11. David Poland says:

    I don’t think she wanted more screen time, Breedlove. I think she did what she was asked.

  12. AdamL says:

    Of all the current films for you to do an in depth take on, this would have been pretty much last in my order of preference. I mean, does anyone with any modicum of taste have any plans to go and see it?

  13. Mary Beth Maahs says:

    I loved the 80’s version and I thought that this version was very well done. I loved how they put more singing and dancing into this one. The one from the 80’s really didn’t have that.. Everyone will have their own opinion but I wouldn’t mind seeing this again..

  14. Jim K says:

    Those of us with kids went and saw it. I didn’t hate it like David P., perhaps because I’ve only seen the 1982 film version once and never saw the show. I did find the blah conclusion in a Jersey City park (!) smacked of possible reshoot and note that the one line Cameron Diaz had in the trailer that made me laugh is no longer in the film. But I actually found the actors capable enough that I still found myself mildly amused by the whole thing. The audience I was with liked the film and applauded at the ending credits, and my kids (and aging parents) liked it quite a bit.

    My biggest problem weren’t the new songs (I liked the song at the end where Diaz, Foxx and Wallis sing in their own worlds that David hates) or the updates, just that the comedy that the writers came up with wasn’t funny!

    Canavale embarrasses himself throughout, and Diaz would’ve been funny if they gave her anything funny to do. But these two kept mugging and were shot in close-up, always cringeworthy in comedy. But I dunno, I didn’t hate the film.

  15. YancySkancy says:

    How long does a “Review-ish” have to be before it qualifies as an actual “Review”? 🙂

  16. Emily says:

    I thought that ‘annie’ was a great movie! I loved how ‘its the hard-knock life’ and ‘tommorow’ was done, and the actress that played annie was increadibly talented. It made me cry, clsp, sing and dance. I thought it was a nice remake of the old classic. I thought that the relationship between annie and will stacks was lovely, and it was nice to see how as the movie uncoves more, you could physicly see how will stacks took more of a liking to annie. The only bad thing i could say is how some of the songs were unnessisary and were too long.

    In your review you said a few racist comments and i think that is horrible. Why shouldn’t annie be black? What does it matter snyway? Its not like the colour of someones skin can change how thier character is portrayed

  17. Lily says:

    Sam, you say people have bad grammar, yet your comment has some grammatical mistakes as well. In other words, you’re a hypocrite.

  18. says:

    “Annie” is a modern day retelling of the acclaimed Broadway Musical and 1982 musical film based on the show, which was based on the 1924 Comic Strip “Little Orphan Annie” which in the original show and movie, takes part during the Great Depression, telling the story of Orphan Annie – a pre-teenage hoping for a return of her parents, who disappeared after they left her on the steps of of an orphanage as a baby. In this version, which again takes place in the modern day, it is revealed in the early part of the film that Annie, played by Quvenzhané Wallis (Academy Award Nominee for the “Beasts of Southern Wild”) was left as a baby at a restaurant by her parents, and is now a foster kid, under the care of Miss Hannigan, played by Cameron Diaz. The Billionaire character “Daddy Warbucks” of the classic story, has been replaced by the character of “Will Stacks”, played by Jamie Foxx (Academy Award winner for “Ray”), who is also a Billionaire from his cell phone business, and is running for Mayor of New York City. So – leading up to this film, the predicted expectations were of gloom and doom, presumably I think because this version does not take place in the original time line, and because some people’s now negative views (not mine) towards Actor/Rapper Will Smith, who co-produced the film with among others, his wife, Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and Rapper and Business Mogel Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, whose sampled one of the Musical’s more populars songs “It’s a Hard Knocked Life” in his hit song “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”. So what did I think – While I admit – the movie does became a mess to a great deal, it is not a total mess, and could have been a lot worse. A lot of songs that many of us love are there and performed well by the cast, some with variations, some of which are understandably, and some which may have probably weren’t necessary. There are some new songs as well, including the very touching “Who am I?” – sung by Diaz, Foxx and Wallis’s characters in the later part of the film. Some of the modern day jokes, just some of the humor in general works well, and some falls flat. Kids should like this version of “Annie” just fine. Adults – I think most who are fans of the original are going to be annoyed by it. I myself am I fan of the Broadway show and 1982 Movie. While I obviously didn’t love this version myself, again, While it does become a mess to a great deal,it’s not a complete one. My rating is for the music, and some of the humor – 2 ½ out of 4 Stars (The ½ star is for the previously mentioned new song “Who am I?”).

  19. Kenda Kumi says:

    Annie is not the train wreck many of you are making it out to be.
    First, I disagree with your sentiments on Jamie Foxx’s singing. He had better think he’s a singer- A grammy & oscar (for a musical!) winning singer at that!
    There very few actors who can do as well in a musical role as Jamie Foxx, given his talent & training in both acting and music. So stop the unnecessary critic of his performance in this role. He was probably the saving grace in the music delivery of the movie.
    Second, that “Anything But You” was performed in the most “random” location for a musical…..what did you want them to do, cut to the Stack penthouse? Where else could the number have satisfactorily been performed? Please suggest. From my observation, it was the natural progression of the scenes. Not unless you wanted the movie to run for another few minutes to accommodate your location preference. & from your comments, no, you wouldn’t want the movie to run any longer than it did.
    About the new songs in the movie, there were some beautiful pieces. “Opportunity” & “Who am I” are thoughtful additions to the score. No need to turn a blind eye to the good stuff in as much as it is new, Auto tune or not. Hi-five Sia & team on that.
    I have to agree, all the stuff around “moon quake lake” was unnecessary. & the related song in the credits, why? Oh, why?
    Funny, how I saw the first Annie in the movie as a homage to the original musical & not a mockery of it at all. I guess your view of this comes from your bias (as mine or anyone else), I just can’t help but wonder why your bias would interpret that scene in a negative light.
    As a fan of musicals, I do agree that it feels like they tried too hard, that Cameron Diaz felt quite off in the delivery of her role & that the general transition in & out of the songs should have been better. Technically, the direction of the movie could have been tighter.
    However, on the idea of an adaptation & the change in setting and modernisation of the characters, that’s more than welcome. It is, after all, an adaptation. How about we be ok with trying something different, something new & not bash it just because it makes us uncomfortable, for whatever reason.

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