I watched the 2014 remake of Annie last nigh and boyyyyy. This film could have been good, but it's doomed by a strange cocktail of laziness and desperation. The original is a story about the antics of a little girl who brings sunshine into the lives of some stuffy adults, who in turn, lift her out of a life of suffering. Instead of that - which to be fair, is rather a tired trope - we have the incredible Quvenzhané Wallis giving a mostly calm, measured performance as all the adults around her ham and mug desperately at the camera. If the film rose and fell on Wallis's performance, it could have been powerful and moving; an updated take on Annie really drives home the tragedy of the story, which can get lost, Dickens style, in the 1930s period trappings. Rose Byrne in particular is somehow terrifying as she overworks her enormous eyes whilst babbling like a crazy woman about how she really is happy and does have friends, hahaha, though it's probably impossible to eat more scenery than Cameron Diaz does without dying of indigestion.
The updated versions of the songs are hit-and-miss and the original songs are plain awful. The sanitising effect of lavishly applied auto-tune cannot save Rose Byrne's performance, or anyone else's, for that matter. I'm sorry for being so hard on Byrne, but I can't help it! Grace is a character who has always been overshadowed by the perky Annie, the deliciously vile Miss Hannigan and the slowly defrosting Daddy Warbucks, so it's a difficult role to work with for anyone. Watching Wallis and Diaz awkwardly frolicking around Daddy Warbucks (I'm sorry, 'Mr Stacks')'s technologically pimped out mansion in the 2014 version of 'I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here', one cannot help but long for dancing servants. This is not even taking into account the blandly reconfigured tune itself.
The only song with decent choreography is 'It's The Hard Knock Life'. The lyrical update from 'no one cares for you a smidge when you're in an orphanage' to 'no one cares for you a bit when you're a foster kid' gave me nasty cold chills - I wonder how actual foster children feel when they watch this movie?
Anyone who has ever worked long-term with children can think of a brief moment in which they guiltily identified with the vitriolic pity party of 'Little Girls', but the decision to treat Miss Hannigan as a poor left-behind soul who has just temporarily lost her way on the path of life rather than a psycho child abuser is... problematic, to say the least. The 'Little Girls' song itself is given a new chorus, in the background of which can be heard the voices of the little girls echoing 'get her out get her out of here' not in a 'get our horrible guardian away from us' sentiment, but rather a 'get her out of her horrible life, poor woman' theme! Abused kids! Singing sympathetically in the chorus of the abuser's self pity song! Miss Hannigan, despite her ghastly new ballad, has still spent years of her life neglecting and emotionally abusing a houseful of children for the sole purpose of monetary gain, exploiting the foster system disgustingly. Having Miss Hannigan turn up to save Annie at the last minute doesn't just undermine the message of 'some adults are bad abusive people whom you don't have to listen to' which kids really do need to hear sometimes, it destroys the agency of the other orphans showing up to denounce the villains - and it completely removes Annie's swagtastic moment:
Miss Hannigan: Annie! Annie, tell these people how good I always been to ya, huh?
Annie: Miss Hannigan, I would - but the one thing you always taught me was 'never tell a lie'.
Just because Miss Hannigan really might be a pitiable human being doesn't mean she isn't also a terrible horrible woman who ought to be stopped. Taking up time in Annie's story to give Miss Hannigan a redemption arc is just a plain disrespectful thing to do. Also, are we supposed to laugh at Miss Hannigan's washed-up has-been sob story or are we meant to pity her for it?
I could talk about the new villain, Mr awful PR guy, and I could poke about in the uncomfortable mess of implications that surrounds the whole 'bring home a random kid to raise your public approval ratings' thing, but the movie handles the whole issue so badly and messily, that it's hardly worth the effort of figuring out what the movie is trying to say. On the surface, looking at the movie side by side with the original musical, he is a replacement for 'Rooster' Hannigan, but look deeper and he's much much more insidious. Basically, awful PR guy somehow absorbs all the wickedness and culpability of everyone in the story - it is he, not Grace, who is responsible for the 'get a foster kid' thing, it is he not Miss Hannigan who is responsible for the 'con everyone into thinking Annie's parents are found (and somehow profit by doing so?) thing, and it is he who is responsible, ultimately, for everything that is wrong with Mr Stacks's behaviour in the public eye. No one else ever does anything else wrong ever, yay! This isn't even mentioning the film's handling of the Horatio Alger myth - is the system at fault or isn't it? Is the American dream real or isn't it? Huh, who knows? Other issues include: what is up with Mr Stacks exploiting Annie for publicity, much like Miss Hannigan exploited her for the income? Is this a problem for anyone? What point is made by the revelation that Annie cannot read? What is going on? I'm bored and confused and the lame musical numbers rife with overacting and auto-tune and rubbish choreography are just making me more bored and confused!
And I won't even mention the perpetual flinging in our face of 'this is modern! Look, twitter! Instagram! Hip and modern! Wheee! Random Jupiter Ascending parody! Wheee!'
Good things could have happened here, but alas, the over-sanitised, fevered mediocrity of this film cannot be redeemed by any half-way decent moment buried in the schlocky mess.
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