Annie (Will Gluck, 2014)
Music teachers the world over probably met the news of the latest Annie film release with trepidation. WILL WE NEVER STOP HEARING THAT SONG ABOUT TOMORROW? And musical theatre lovers like me feared for the worst because Will Smith was producing and threatening to make it ‘contemporary’, which seems to be code for ‘we are going to shit all over this classic in an effort to appeal to Gen Z-ers who don’t know better’. It threatened to be heinously unbearable, but luckily it wasn’t all bad. But it certainly had its flaws.
The story has been updated to fit a current day setting, with little orphan Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) now living with an alcoholic foster bitch, Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) instead of in an orphanage. Oliver Warbucks is now Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), mobile phone mogul who is running for mayor. And in case you hadn’t noticed, Annie is BLACK! Just wait for the old racists to start crapping on about that. After saving Annie’s life and having it conveniently caught on iPhone camera, Stacks invites Annie to stay with him temporarily so she can provide him with the photo opportunities needed to keep his election campaign alive. They bond, the baddies try to manipulate the situation, but everyone lives happily ever after and we end with an awkward flash mob.
Musicals are all about the music, and unfortunately Greg Kurstin, Will Gluck and Sia have made a right cock-up of contemporising the soundtrack. Many of the songs start off true to the original but then go on to transform into try-hard modern rubbish. ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ has been completely bastardised and I hardly think Sia is one to write and sing about smiles WHEN SHE DOESN’T EVEN SHOW HER FACE. ‘Easy Street’, ‘Little Girls’, and ‘I Don’t Need Anything But You’ retain half of their charm but then veer off into hideous territory, and aren’t helped by Cameron Diaz’s average vocals. The fact that they make a big deal of Miss Hannigan’s beautiful voice is just too ridiculous. Rose Byrne cannot sing to save herself and her contribution to ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here’ (also half-ruined) is mega awkward. They don’t even bother including ‘NYC’ which is a major disappointment. The new arrangements for the songs that are true to the original score (‘It’s a Hard-Knock Life’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘Tomorrow’) are done well, and if they’d just adjusted the score in this small way it could have been extraordinary. Unfortunately they were intent on messing with a good thing, and also adding in a bunch of new, forgettable songs too (‘Opportunity’, ‘The City’s Yours’, ‘Who am I?’) The excessive auto-tune didn’t help either. There’s no fixing Rose Byrne’s voice.
The updating of the actual story is thankfully better than the musical side of things, though there is perhaps a bit too much emphasis on how awesome it is to be rich, and there are a few loose ends that are never tied up. The screenplay isn’t the greatest – some of the ‘jokes’ are strained and I have to wonder what happened to Emma Thompson’s involvement. Though it was initially announced that she would pen the script, this did not occur and it is a travesty. This film had the potential to be great, but they stuffed it up by involving Will Gluck (director, screenwriter, and co-composer). Visually, Annie is decent, and my fears of it looking like a bad rap video weren’t realised, although the choreography is pretty terrible.
The casting is good on an acting level, but of course there are no actual singers involved. Quvenzhané Wallis is likeable as Annie for the most part, though the character is naturally somewhat precocious and she isn’t quite as remarkable as in her break-out performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Jamie Foxx brings the suave, and he is genuinely entertaining. Cameron Diaz is a bit over the top in her nastiness, and I can’t even really buy her as tacky and mean. As she’s a likeable actress I enjoyed her performance, but that seems contradictory when she’s meant to be the villain. Rose Byrne is the perfect Grace in appearance and demeanour but her singing voice is God-awful. Bobby Cannavale is a dude and I liked him as the greasy Guy (the Rooster equivalent). They’re all quite acceptable but when compared to the likes of Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry of the original Annie film, or Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming from the 1999 remake, it’s quite depressing that the casting directors passed on actual triple threats. Rooster and Lily St Regis aren’t even in this version. Shame on you, Will Gluck. Shame!
If this film can bring some Broadway love to the youth of today then I suppose that is a good thing, but they need to be educated on what a good solid movie musical actually is. Music teachers, step up. You are needed now more than ever.