Thursday, January 1, 2015

Movie with Abe: Annie

Directed by Will Gluck
Released December 25, 2014

Expectation drives so much these days, and remaking a classic musical that’s already a bit hard to take seriously in a modern-day setting isn’t a promising setup. This new “Annie” embraces its fresh take head-on, starting with a white, red-haired Annie presenting a report before “Annie B” is called up to talk about FDR and the New Deal, fast-forwarding the classic story from its original Depression-era setting to present-day New York City, where its title character races around the city with ease, warmly embracing the universe but yearning for the chance to meet the parents who abandoned her at a young age. Though it doesn’t always work, its ambitious redesign is commendable and worth a viewing.

It’s fun to see Quvenzhané Wallis, who got her start a few years ago at a young age in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” cast as Annie, who here is full of energy and enthusiasm, and seems to want for little other than the one thing she can’t have – a real family. Suspension of disbelief is necessary in all musicals and certainly so here since it almost seems like Annie has no adversity to overcome, and she is far too worldly and knowledgeable to be surprised by what the world is really like. Yet it’s hard not to be enchanted by Annie’s surreal experiences, which in this case find her living with a businessman running for mayor in a smart house penthouse apartment.

With a soundtrack as memorable as this one, it’s not a surprise that those behind this new version would want to add an original song, which comes in the form of the Golden Globe-nominated tune “Opportunity,” which adds a nice subplot for Annie and a strong showcase for her to sing it. Musical ability doesn’t seem to be paramount here, and the film gets by on its whimsical nature and a few awkward transitions into song.

Wallis is the only element of the film aside from the song to receive much recognition, and deservedly so, though Rose Byrne, speaking with an English accent, is charming as Grace, who quickly takes a liking to Annie. Jamie Foxx’s Will Stacks is entertaining at times, though he’s certainly much better than the abysmal take on Miss Hannigan offered by Cameron Diaz, which isn’t entirely her fault and can be blamed equally on the writing of the part. Bobby Cannavale’s political operator and Stephanie Kurtzuba’s social services employee are particularly lamentable parts of the ensemble whose characters should never have existed. Otherwise, this film will leaves its viewers singing, not entirely satisfied but appropriately entertained over the course of a two-hour remake that isn’t anywhere near as bad as many expected it to be.


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