Dec 18, 2014

Film Review: Annie Remake

Ermahgerd, it's Annie!

Let's review Annie!

In case you don't know (perhaps you're a recently unfrozen caveman), every iteration of Annie, including this latest from director Will Gluck, follows a delightful orphan as she is swept off her feet by a single billionaire who takes her away from her life of orphaning. Songs, laughter, and paternal love follow. It was originally conceived as a comic strip, then adapted as a radio play, a few movies, a musical, and finally the 1982 classic movie-musical starring Carol Burnett as Annie's alcoholic, evil-yet-nuanced caretaker Miss Hannigan and Albert Finney as the rich man who welcomes Annie onto his palatial estate and into his heart. The plot is bare-bones, and many of the musical numbers are regrettable; the 1982 version exists as a great movie mostly for the many stellar performances. This 2014 remake stars Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx in two main roles, which is the very definition of downgrading.

Quvenzhané Wallis stars as the titular Annie, who we meet as she leads her band of co-orphans on a variety of exploits and also works to find her birth parents and escape Miss Hannigan (Diaz). When her path crosses with billionaire and aspiring politician Will Stacks (Foxx), she's swept up into his world of smart houses, movie premieres, and MORE. She befriends Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne), Stacks' personal assistant, learns that money solves everything, and gets into a high speed car chase that involves a lot of smart phones and a helicopter.

I didn't want to hate this movie, and it was, all-in-all, fairly entertaining. It was just so depressingly off-note. I loved Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, the film for which she rightly received an Oscar nomination. However, she's incredibly miscast or misused in this film. She doesn't exude the energy needed to carry a film. In an attempt to make her witty, the film forgot to make her a delightful child. Also, she can't sing, which results in some of the most egregious auto-tune I've ever heard in a movie -- She's basically Akon.  And the auto-tuning doesn't end with her. Diaz and Byrne's singing voices are reworked so heavily that they're barely recognizable. Jamie Foxx's voice, on the other hand, doesn't seem manipulated as much, but his voice is so uncomfortably crooning and sexual that his songs with Annie feel more creepy than endearing. He has bedroom voice, which has served his music career well but feels off in this environment. It doesn't help that many of the songs are updated really poorly, and many of the musical numbers exist in a world where people (usually Miss Hannigan or Annie) hallucinate heavily while singing about their dreams.

The movie also tries really hard to be current and hip, and that ends up hurting the film overall. Twitter, especially, is all over this movie, with a particularly groan-worthy endorsement from America's candy-colored princess, Katy Perry. It's not just that tech is used too much -- it's that it's used incorrectly. Camera phone videos have both super hi-def video and can capture multiple angles simultaneously. Somehow hashtags are important in solving crimes. Social media outlets falls in love with a billionaire because he adopts an orphan but don't vilify when he openly talks about how it's a publicity stunt when they're right in front of him. The over-appropriation and misunderstanding of this technology is never more evident than in the film's climax, where, after hyping phones throughout the film, the characters forget that they exist for long enough for Annie to get quasi-kidnapped. Ugh.

Also, in another attempt to update the source material, the plot is reworked to a ridiculous degree, with a villain so unnecessarily evil that it throws off the rest of the movie. Additionally, somehow the movie seems small-scale. Annie co-orphans have been reduced from an entire choir of hard-knockers to just a few whiny vagabonds. The giant house filled with hundreds of rooms and servants has transformed into a smart-house with zero housekeepers and, like, 5 rooms. It's prime New York real estate, for sure, but it doesn't feel special.

The film isn't all bad. Rose Byrne is funny and endearing even when playing a paper-thin character. There's a fake movie in the middle of the movie that stars Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Rihanna, and it's incredible. There are some fun callbacks to the earlier movie. Also, it's really brightly colored, so babies will probably get a kick out of it.

I'm a sucker for movie musicals. I like movies. I like musicals. And I like when they get together. Yet, it seems like I am continually disappointed by them. For every one that attains Chicago-esque brilliance, there are three or four shitty Les Miserables-style misfires hitting theaters. But with this remake, which seems to have resulted from too much focus-group testing and the misguided belief that LOUD is an acceptable substitute for 'good,' it seems like Hollywood has once again taken an elephantine dump on my heart.

Film Grade: F (and no suns coming up tomorrow)
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