Magazine article Screen International


Magazine article Screen International


Article excerpt

Dir: Will Gluck. US. 2014. 118mins

The poise and grace newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis brought to Beasts Of The Southern Wild are all but eradicated by Annie, a shrill, juvenile remake of the well-known tale of an orphan girl and her billionaire benefactor. Though always meant to be a fairy tale, this new Annie comes across as especially materialistic and shallow, treating the titular spitfire's unlikely journey into the lap of luxury as little more than a cataloguing of high-priced trinkets and fancy clothes.

The only cast member to transcend Annie's drudgery is Byrne, who radiates warmth and sweetness where much of the rest of the film ladles on the sarcasm and attitude.

Reduced to playing cutesy-pie bratty for most of the film's running time, Wallis has a few genuine moments with co-stars Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne, but director Will Gluck shows little skill for capturing the joy or heart of the venerable musical.

Opening December 19 in the US, Annie will square off with another song-and-dance movie, Disney's Into The Woods, which may have more marquee firepower. Aimed at family audiences, this Sony release won't just compete for the kid-friendly crowd with Into The Woods but also Fox's Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb, and no doubt each studio is hoping that the holiday season will be big enough to accommodate all three movies. If Annie falters theatrically, though, home video and cable should be there to make up any shortfalls.

Taking place in present day New York -- a conscious departure from the Great Depression-era setting of the 1970s Broadway musical and the subsequent film directed by John Huston (which were both based on the 1920s comic strip) -- Annie stars Wallis as the foster child. Trapped in a miserable life with drunken, loud-mouthed caretaker Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), Annie finds a way out by accidentally crossing paths with Will Stacks (Foxx), a cell phone magnate who's running for mayor. Told by his advisors that he seems cold and distant, Will is encouraged to let Annie live with him in his fabulous apartment as a way to convince voters that he has a soft side.

With Easy A, Gluck demonstrated a knack for tart characters and sassy dialogue without sacrificing heart. Unfortunately, Annie proves to be a smartass, rather shabby musical almost from the start, the jokes and the emotion all delivered with a thudding lack of subtlety, presumably to make sure that young people in the audience don't get confused by nuance.

Some of the original Broadway songs, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, have been updated, but they remain Annie's strongest element, their dependably hummable melodies pleasingly familiar if not exactly soul-stirring. (Gluck doesn't help matters by staging chestnuts like It's The Hard Knock Life without much vigour or visual ingenuity.) However, the tunes aren't always performed very powerfully: While Foxx has the vocal chops, Wallis is a tepid singer, a critical weakness considering that Annie's plucky spirit and indomitable optimism are best articulated through song.

But what's truly galling about this Annie is its gross extravagance. The filmmakers mean to illustrate that the filthy-rich Will got that way because of hard work, but at the expense of having anyone special in his life. (Possible love interest Byrne plays Will's beautiful and capable vice president Grace, who like her boss is a workaholic loner. …

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