It’s hard not to root for “Annie” — both the modern-day reproduction of the 1930s musical and Quvenzhane Wallis’ adorably amicable portrayal of the titular character. With that said, “Annie” is far too modernist for its own good, relying excessively on gaudy embellishments of current trending topics and making insufficient use of the iconic source material. But even though the flick consistently succumbs to cheesy pratfalls, it remains a likable, family-friendly bet for holiday moviegoing.
“Annie,” produced by the tag-team of Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and directed by Will Gluck (“Easy A”) ventures into the familiar territory of its forebears: Little Annie, when she’s not charming the denizens of her borough, aspires to discover her long-lost parents. The young foster child inadvertently chances upon mobile tycoon Will Stacks — a play on the original’s Daddy Warbucks, portrayed by Jamie Foxx — whose political consultants view their fortuitous encounter as a way to bolster his faltering mayoral campaign. Rather than capitalizing on Annie’s persona, however, Stacks and his personal assistant, Grace (Rose Byrne), are inevitably enamored by the foster child’s charm, to the dismay of Annie’s former foster mom, Colleen Hannigan (horrendously played by Cameron Diaz — but more on that later) and Stacks’ avaricious adviser, Guy (Bobby Cannavale).
To its credit, “Annie” is knowingly self-aware — conscious of the “colorblind” vitriol spewed toward the news of the originally redheaded Annie being casted as a young black girl. In its first moments, “Annie” strikes back by throwing their own shade in the first seconds of the film, when an unnervingly spry ginger child, Annie A., is immediately usurped by our lovably raucous Annie B. Especially in light of recent events, depicting a New York City in which black lives do genuinely matter is laudable — a modern-day representation of the original’s starry-eyed optimism in the lives of the Great Depression-stricken American public.
Wallis positively shimmers as Little Orphan — scratch that, Foster Kid — Annie. The young starlet impeccably personifies Annie’s charming street smarts, whether she is joyously imploring Stacks to “adopt” her or belting out an impromptu ode to the “Opportunity” bestowed upon her. So does Foxx: His clean-freak take on Will Stacks in the vein of the late Steve Jobs — turtleneck and all — convincingly manifests his transition from capitalist buffoon to heartwarming father-figure with ease. The exchanges between the two, as Annie captures the gruff businessman’s heart, are the most redemptive part of the film. Their dynamic is warm, sweet and tender — not unlike a freshly-baked cinnamon roll. Not to mention — as if his cameo on Kanye’s “Gold Digger” wasn’t convincing enough — the man can belt out a song. Foxx and Wallis arguably contribute the musical highlight of the production with “The City’s Yours,” a stellar showcase that blends in with the pop-rap sheen of the classic film’s venerable tunes (“Tomorrow,” “It’s a Hard Knock Life”).
Yet “Annie,” in repurposing the vintage tropes of the film for a modern-day audience, suffers from a slew of ham-fisted, pandering cliches that threaten to derail the otherwise affecting sentimentality of the flick. Diaz best embodies the film’s cheesiness, careening off the tracks as Miss Hannigan, Annie’s neglectful, vainglorious drunk of a foster mother. Her take on Miss Hannigan, whose narcissistic antipathy could have brilliantly juxtaposed with the saccharine softness of the film, amounts to nothing more than a gratuitous, half-baked caricature and sloppy seconds left over from Diaz’s role in “Bad Teacher.” Furthermore, the film’s incorporation of social media, particularly in its third act, is trite and bland — a Twitter cameo from Katy Perry in the midst of the film’s already staid climax doesn’t earn it any cool points.
At one point, Foxx’s Stacks is likened to Jay Gatsby in an apropos summation of the film. Much like 2013’s “Gatsby,” with its showy, shallow grandstanding revision on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s portrait of the Roaring ’20s, “Annie” is a flashily inconsequential take on the sunny classic. “Annie” can perhaps best be captured in one scene: Annie’s expectantly hopeful demeanor as she presents a revolting breakfast concocted for Stacks, which he must shower with praise as he dumps it out. Gluck, Jay-Z and the Smiths are all filled with good intentions, yet their recipe leaves plenty to be desired.
‘Annie’ is now playing at AMC Bay Street 16 in Emeryville.
Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].