Review: Annie

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

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PLOT: A clever ten-year-old foster child, Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) living under the thumb of the despicable Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) winds up in the care of billionaire entrepreneur/NYC mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) and his assistant, Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne). While initially keeping her around for political reasons, the warm-hearted Stacks soon begins to take a fatherly interest in the child, while his adviser (Bobby Cannavale) schemes with Hannigan for a way to get rid of the meddling child once and for all.

REVIEW: Reviewing a movie like ANNIE is always kind of a tough proposition. As a thirty-three year old man, I’m far from the target audience here. Still, the musical itself does stir up a bit of nostalgia from having grown up watching the 1982 John Huston version, which my sister forced me to endure literally hundreds of times throughout the eighties. I’m actually amazed it’s taken this long to get ANNIE off the ground as with all the remakes and reboots out there, why not remake ANNIE?

Alas, while the ’82 version was a lavish widescreen musical, this new ANNIE is a total B-movie, with a small scope and a curiously low-budget feel that runs contrary to the fact that this is Sony’s big holiday release. Nobody involved with this seems to know all that much about staging movie musicals. This feels cheap and notably lacks creativity. The songs are mostly lifted from the original (which date back to the Broadway musical) and are re-staged in a modern way which, here anyway, means they’re given a light r n’ b/pop overhaul, although nothing sounds especially different. While some of the tracks, particularly “A Hard Knock Life” have been extremely influential over the years, the way they’re staged here feels like each song was just tossed off in a way that nobody really cared about doing them justice. The new songs are especially unmemorable and probably won’t do much damage on the billboard charts.

Who is to blame? Is it director Will Gluck? While a solid comedy director (EASY A was charming) this doesn’t seem like a good fit, with him making a movie that looks more suitable for a Netflix Instant Watch than the big screen. The product placement and tacked-on references to China makes this feel like more of a (hoped-for) money-making machine than a movie. The casting is also a mixed bag. Cameron Diaz flounders badly as Hannigan, lacking the scenery-chewing aplomb of Carol Burnett in the original. The jokes, where Hannigan was chucked out of C&C Music Factory and Hootie & the Blowfish, seem designed to make Gen-X parents laugh, but given how poorly Diaz comes off in the part they’ll just roll their eyes. Jamie Foxx is pretty good as the Daddy Warbucks-style figure, Stacks, bringing heart to the part that almost makes the movie work at times, while the always-likable Rose Byrne is sweet as his amorous assistant.

As for Annie herself, well here’s the thing – child actors are only as good as their directors. Quvenzhané Wallis was incredibly effective in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, but the director of that movie did a hell of a job getting a performance out of her. Here, she seems to have just been asked to be cute, and doesn’t give off the personality the part needed. Her singing voice is not-bad, but a real problem is that none of the performances seem to have been done live. With an adult, who can really act that’s fine. But for a child it’s so obvious that when she’s supposed to be singing she’s just mouthing the words (or so it seems), and it’s funny how little Annie is featured in the musical numbers, despite her being the title character. Again though, Wallis is ten and should not be blamed. That belongs elsewhere.

I’d say ANNIE was the big disaster of the holiday season were it not for the fact that it’s just so bland and forgettable that it doesn’t even make a big enough impression to inspire hate. It’s just a nothing film, and one that will likely be forgotten once the kids open their presents X-Mas morning. It seems unlikely this will be the blockbuster Sony hoped for, but maybe if more had been invested in the movie to give it scope and make it cinematic it might have worked. As it is, this isn’t even as good as the TV movie version of ANNIE from the late nineties.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.