Friday, January 2, 2015


By smartly updating an old chestnut, 
this new Annie gleams with real emotion

     Will Gluck has taken Annie, updated it (this is commented upon in the first shot and then cheekily by Annie), added some new songs, re-orchestrated everything, addressed the ethnic and socioeconomic mix of NYC, and re-thought the
motivations for the final reversal.  It adds up to a delightful family movie that works except for two numbers.  It’s been criticized for being materialistic and miscast; I disagree strongly and find both opinions specious.

     We never saw Daddy Warbucks’ business concerns in the original, but Will Stacks’s fortune is based on cell phones and telecommunications and that plays out throughout with social media (it saves Annie towards the end), updated political polls since Stacks spends much of the plot running for mayor, and comments upon the characters.  In a twenty-four hour news & entertainment loop, Annie merely captures the narcissism of the power class and the self-regard of New York and its inhabitants.  

Foxx and Wallis
     Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx mesh perfectly as the leads, though I didn’t quite buy “I Don’t Need Anything but You” at the end.  It seemed too big of a moment, whereas the actors were working toward something more understated.  The final moments with Annie and her friends are strong because this is a grrrl power movie and they demonstrate chemistry from its first moments. “Opportunity,” a new song, doesn’t work because it doesn’t seem like Annie would get up and sing for everyone (yes, she does in the original for FDR and Eleanor, but this context is different and this Annie feels less theatrical in every sense) at the Guggenheim, though her reaction to a speech works.  

Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie
     On the other hand, the rest of the songs – old and new – have been rethought for cinematic purposes.  The two most famous songs – “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” – seem completely current because of how Gluck uses the sights and sounds of New York, but also hip-hop rhythms and references to Stomp.  “Who Am I?” works towards the end 
The Latest Miss Hannigan
because of Cameron Diaz’s Miss Hannigan re-thinking her future.  Diaz comes through with a fine performance, which doesn’t reduce Hannigan to a sloshed harridan.  Instead, her back-story relates to ‘90s pop so there are some clever references to C & C Music Factory.  

Rose Byrne, Bobby Canavale and "Annie"
     Rose Byrne did a lovely job (one hates to say ‘as usual,’ though it’s true for her) and Bobby Canavale was strong until his character was turned into the villain about three quarters of the way through.  On a cynical note, one could say that the rich find others to do their dirty work for them until they change their minds.  An up and comer could be Stephanie Kurtzuba, who practically walks off with every scene she’s in as Mrs. Kovacevic, the social services employee.  Her absolute joy at visiting Stacks’s penthouse demonstrates greater appreciation than even Annie’s.  It makes up for her being a kleptomaniac, which was a detail that made little sense to me.

The Finale
     The cinematography spectacularly captures New York City from the street and the sky and the editing keeps things moving.  There wasn’t a sequence that could have been cut and the children with whom I saw it were pretty mesmerized the whole time.  This was a far cry from Les Misérables (2012), where I hoped lunch might be served or that I could have a nap.

No comments: