There are three elements to Annie that sum up the 2014 remake: producer Jay Z, Glee choreographer Zachary Woodlee and Cameron Diaz‘s gum-smacking pie-hole. It’s a melting pot of bad taste that assumes putting a black girl in the titular ginger role is all it needs to account for its yucky existence. With music that’s bubblegum poppy even by Disney standards – all auto-tuned and ironed out to mimic the electro-caw of Billboard toppers – eruptions into song-and-dance that make no sense in the context of director Will Gluck‘s (Friends With Benefits) telling of the tale – sometimes other characters are cognizant of the songsplosions and they aid in propelling the narrative forward, other times the numbers are existential blobs of magical realism – and Cameron Diaz misunderstanding the difference between campy and straight up obtuse, Annie is a poorly intentioned money grab, pivoting away from family values and towards an indefensible thesis that dollar signs equal happiness.
The once adorable Quvenzhané Wallis of Beasts of the Southern Wild has sprouted into a proportionally adorable 11-year old and she’s the least to blame for the failure that is Annie. She’s not “good” in the role but she’s cute enough to make us go “Awww.” This being 2014 though, the concept of lil’ orphan Annie has gone out the window, replaced by a more contemporary and PC notion of lil’ foster kid Annie. Because orphanages are so 1982. But all the shady conditions of Ms. Hannigan’s orphanage carry over to Ms. Hannigan’s foster home – borderline child slavery, condescension more evil than snarky, a bevy of lil orphans dreaming of the day their parents will return. But with Gluck’s clumsy hand, these grim circumstances come wrapped up in pretty bows. There’s no authenticity here, only bold-faced mockery.
As Hannigan, Diaz spits her lines like a drunk on the subway, missing the mark of subtle commentary by a country mile. She is awful. Jamie Foxx, playing a twist on Daddy Warbucks, is Will Stacks, a cell phone mogul (and is inexplicably (secretly) bald)) intent on blanketing the city in cell phone towers. He’s even got one in the Statue of Liberty. Huzzah! For an update as seemingly significant as this, there’s no underlying purpose to his career or commentary about the fact that a business man has literally planted his product inside the physical representation of freedom. How is something like that brought up and just tabled?! I digress but for a reason; this misstep provides an ample example of just how clueless the film ultimately is. In the end, Stack”s driving force is boiled down to a desire that no calls will ever be dropped. He shares his motivation with the Verizon Wireless test man.
Foxx isn’t bad so much as tired-looking, like he’d rather be somewhere else, and his musical numbers – though aggressively affected and disparate stylistically (he’s straight soul baby) – provide a significant step-up from tuneless compatriots Diaz and Bobby Cannavale (who isn’t otherwise bad in the role.) Rose Byrne amps up her effortless charm even if she’s saddled with one of the most aggressively WTF dance serving of the film (arms swingin’, fingers snappin’) though her character struggles with a (never explained) crippling bout of friendlessness that’s hinted towards perhaps being schizophrenia (her only friends were imaginary…)
There’s more plot holes as big as the sun (Spoiler: why would Annie’s orphan friends help audition fake parents for her? Seriously, why?! Are they just the worst friends ever? Also, how the f*ck can she not read?! How is she texting her friends then? And why is Foxx bald? WHY?!) and an overt smugness to Gluck’s proceedings. It’s a sliced bread family film with blinders on, entirely lacking in the purpose department and that’s largely because Gluck’s is one big game of assumption – assuming existing fondness for the character will allow this redressing to gloss over a floppy script, assuming that a pop-update to all the songs is necessarily a good, or even welcome, thing, assuming that we won’t notice how much this stinks of white people trying to write black people (the honky jive is just embarrassing.) It’s false, it’s lifeless and it’s unnecessary.