Annie would seem to be a pretty solid choice for a musical that could be adapted to modern times. Everyone can root for an optimistic orphan who becomes the apple of a billionaire’s eye, and the story feels timely due to class inequity becoming a hot-button political issue. Unfortunately, Will Gluck’s version of the musical is a yawn-inducing bore that lacks even the minimal charm required to make the songs work.
Quvenzhané Wallis stars as the titular scrappy foster kid, who lives in the care of Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), a bitter alcoholic who never stops talking about how she was kicked out of C+C Music Factory just before they appeared on Arsenio. One day, cell-phone magnate and New York City mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) saves Annie from being hit by a truck, prompting Stack’s ethically unencumbered political advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) to track the girl down for a photo op. The maneuver is a hit with voters, and leads to the workaholic Stacks adopting Annie. Soon enough, the charming girl melts the cold capitalist’s heart, but shenanigans by Guy and Miss Hannigan threaten to separate the two.
Ideally, updating Annie for the 21st century should require more than references to Twitter, mellow hip-hop beats under the songs, and getting rid of orphanages, but that’s all Gluck and co-screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna managed to accomplish, and it adds up to little more than window dressing. That would be fine if the performances were engaging or the songs were delivered with some old-school, showbiz razzle-dazzle, but the choppy editing and less-than-commanding voices of everyone involved keep this Annie from holding the audience’s attention.
There is one interesting creative decision regarding the character of Will Stacks. Instead of a mansion full of servants, cooks, and underlings, Stacks has a smart house and seems to talk only to Guy and his loyal right-hand woman Grace (Rose Byrne). The film seems like it’s going to examine how disconnected people are because of technology: Will made his fortune in cell phones, built an isolated world for himself, and then has it torn down by the love of a darling young girl. But instead of exploring this idea in more detail, Gluck and company subject us to a bewildering performance of “Little Girls” that includes singing by Diaz, lots of smiling by Quvenzhané Wallis, and Jamie Foxx hamming it up like his life depended on it.
There are a smattering of new songs on the soundtrack, but none of them are as hummable or appealing as the numbers that were cut for time. That pretty much sums up everything wrong with this version of Annie. The filmmakers only thought about how to make it current, and not about how to make it better.