Merry Christmas, everyone! It’s that time of year when families all over will be heading to the movies, seeing movies the likes of Into the Woods, Night at the Museum, and the now notorious remake the of the musical Annie.
For the record, I’ve never considered myself a fan of the original musical this film is based on. Aside from a couple songs here and there, I’ve always considered it highly forgettable and stale. Because of this, I was never quite as gung-ho as others to write this new film off, as I couldn’t care less for the source material to begin with.
However, I never could have seen just how negatively this film was being treated, so much so that not only fans of the musical, but even those who can’t stand it all agreeing on what a laughably terrible execution this is. Out of curiosity, I had to check it out, and I now find myself at a loss for words by how unhinged and crazy this film is.
In the streets of New York, Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis), a young foster kid, holds onto hope that her parents will one day come to find her, and currently lives under the care of a cruel and bitter legal guardian (Cameron Diaz). By chance, Annie is saved one day by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a cell phone company mogul running for Mayor, and after this heroic event goes viral, Stacks eventually teams up with Annie for a deal. Annie will live in the lap of luxury and possibly gain more exposure to gain the attention of her parents, while Stacks will use Annie for appearances to boost his poll numbers, but it isn’t long before the two begin to have a stronger, inseparable bond from these experiences.
From the moment Annie begins, the film is doomed to failure. It opens on a classroom full of children, with a little redhead girl in a coat clearly modeled after the original Annie character giving a presidential report, then followed up by THIS movie’s version of Annie. It’s an oddly staged scene that wants to show a self-aware interpretation of its modernization and revamping of the old tale, but comes across as ridiculous in execution, and sets a bad precedent for the following events. The whole film wants to be progressively minded, but couldn’t be any further from being so. It tries to work in horribly misconceived social media ties, which instead make it seem shallow by placing a very cynical sense of materialistic value at the forefront, which the film badly tries to lampshade with a jab of how ubiquitous product placement in film has become. In one sequence later in the film, it even has a disturbing glorification for cell phone companies that track and file every move you make via invasion of privacy, putting “the ends justifies the means” to far extremes. The modernization of the story (from the original 1930’s Depression era setting) is also problematic, with the original songs feeling at odds with the current state of the world, and creating utterly nonsensical context.
The cast is generally very weak. Wallis comes fresh off her Oscar nominated starring performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild, and while she does bring a bit of charm to the role of Annie, it doesn’t change how miscasted she is due to her generally poor singing. Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale are two actors that I could never hate (even if their comedy would be better suited to a Seth Rogen film), but don’t leave much of any impact, and downright embarrass themselves at points. Cannavale is especially hopeless in his rendition of “Easy Street”, his voice obviously struggling to hit those big notes, and his character a complete mismatch to the lyrics. Jamie Foxx takes perhaps the biggest beating of them all, trying to add some warmth and zest to the film, but instead comes across as very smug and passive to everything surrounding him. We never believe in his friendship with Annie, which gives us no reason to care about what happens to either of them.
Technically, the film is disastrous. The film is directed by Will Gluck, best known for full fledged comedies like Easy A and Friends with Benefits, and you can tell that he is out of his element, and cannot adapt. The song sequences are all shot so plainly and subdued; they have no care in how they’re staged and choreographed, and are the subject of some horrendous lip-syncing. It’s like the actors don’t even try to match up most of the time, but if I were forced to match perfectly with sound mixing this incompetent and amateurish, with music this processed and auto-tuned within an inch of its life, I probably wouldn’t care how things look on screen either. The music for the film is so badly constructed, with instrumentation choices as grating as a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score (something that’s SUPPOSED to sound grating). Even fans of the original musical will deplore how carelessly these songs are being treated.
In every technical sense, this chalks Annie up as one of the worst movies I have seen all year. However, even if you might think me crazy for saying so, it’s a movie you have to see to believe. Annie is a horrible film, but if nothing else, it’s such a wildly misconceived and bizarre movie that it can still be enjoyed for the same ironic reasons as a film like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. The film is loaded with scenes of unintentional laughter, ripe for the possibilities of potential drinking games, and so wildly over the top, it becomes a full on spectacle of terrible mixtures.
Chief among this (and one you’ll notice I’ve been neglecting so far) is in the casting of Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan. Critics have been quick to shred her performance to pieces, but I think she’s getting dealt an unfair hand here. Let me just say that this is not a good performance. In fact, it’s a terrible performance. However, with seeing how horrible everything around her is, I believe that’s intentional.
I would be so bold as to say that she knew just how bad this movie was going to be, and, embracing her inner Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons, decided to go all out and just have fun with it. Her character is like something out of a completely different film, plucked from one script and dropped into another, and so over the top that she makes Michael Sheen in Twilight look subtle by comparison. It’s almost like she was making bets with crew members off camera that she could go off the wall bonkers in any scene, and they wouldn’t even stop her. They wouldn’t even do another take. She doesn’t seem to care in the slightest what the final product is going to look like, devouring scenery in every frame of the film, and something like that is something I not only admire, but would probably do myself were I given that opportunity.
Like I said, I can’t defend Annie as being a good film. It’s most certainly one of the worst films that has come out this year, but for a simple exercise of ideas so misjudged, you wonder how anyone could think that any of it would work, it’s hysterical for all the wrong reasons.
* / *****