What bothers me about the loose reimagining of “Annie” is that we’re introduced to Annie during her class where we see a young red haired girl in a dress giving a speech, who then tap dances to her seat. She’s named Annie, and the heroine from this film is called “Annie B.” Yes, her last name is Bennett, but the use of B, feels almost like the writers are subconsciously trying to remind audiences that this isn’t a new Annie, but an alternate Annie who, when all is said and done, isn’t the genuine article. That’s very disappointing and irritating, considering this should be what “Annie” should aspire for. It shouldn’t be a production about a Caucasian orphan being adopted in to wealth and love, but about any kind of girl whose optimism becomes her best tool against a harsh world.
“Annie” has every opportunity to embrace its new setting, and present a brand new twist on the original series, but it just fails on all marks. The performances are dodgy, the musical numbers feel rehashed rather than reworked, and the direction lacks the magic and spirit of the foster child making good in the world that’s kept the musical alive for so many decades. To make the experience worse, the writers pander to modern audiences at every turn (Hey look! Rihanna! She’s relevant!), rather than trying to create a relatable and timeless narrative. There are references to the nineties, painfully awkward tacked on nods to China (Overseas profits are everything after all), and the opening features a hip hop snippet of “Hard Knock Life.”
It’s almost like the writers are gauging more nostalgia: “Remember when Jay Z made this fun song popular again?” I’m not against an urban remake of “Annie.” I think the concept of a depression era orphan becoming an advertent heroine, being transformed to appeal to modern audiences is clever. The depression era Annie becoming a modern depression era heroine has massive potential, and can be fitted to any ethnicity. It’s just “Annie” is a missed opportunity and feels half baked from minute one. Even worse, it lacks the authenticity of the original narrative and garners a manufactured aesthetic that makes the narrative feel less like a fantasy and much more cynical at every turn. Most of the performances are vary from Cameron Diaz chewing the scenery, to Rose Byrne who shockingly fails to inject humanity in to character Grace Farrell.
Byrne is typically a scene stealer, but here she just feels out of her element. The same can be said for the two main stars unfortunately stuck in an abysmal film. Quvenzhané Wallis is fantastic as Annie, the perpetually hopeful and optimistic orphan whose smile is a shield against a lot of terrible in the world. Even when her foster mother (Diaz) is calling her worthless, Annie keeps her smile on, and kills her with kindness. Foxx also is entertaining as the mogul Will Stacks, a modern Daddy Warbucks, who is lacking fulfillment until Annie brings out his inner child and sense of optimism that’s been hidden after years of pain. There are great ways to re-invent timeless stories for an urban audience (e.g. “West Side Story”) and then there’s the wrong way. “Annie” is sadly the latter.