Saturday, February 7, 2015

Annie - Everything Old is New Again

Look at what we're dripping with...little girls

I've seen the new Annie movie twice now, and I've been struggling with how I feel about it.  Which is odd, but I'll get to that in a minute.

In general there were some good and bad points.  I'll cover some more in depth later, but a quick run down.

The bad

 - The Auto-tune.  Holy cow, it was horrendous at times.
 - Cameron Diaz in general.  I'm not sure what she was going for in this performance.  While there were times I was OK with it, the majority of her performance was terri-bad.
 - The Auto-tune.  Yes, it was bad enough to get a second entry.
 - Changing the songs.
 - The role of Guy.  While I think Bobby Cannavale did a fine job, the whole role was written like a Rocky & Bullwinkle villain.

The good

Some of the best pieces of this movie
 - Changing the songs. (I know, it's on both lists.  Bear with me)
 - Quvenzhane Wallis
 - Jaime Foxx
 - Everything about MoonQuake Lake - the movie premier Annie attends.  Such cheese.
 - The various nods to the original 1982 Annie.
 - That they managed to keep Willow Smith out of this.

So How About a Review?

I mentioned that I was struggling on how much I like the movie.  Here's why.  If you watch the movie through the lens of the 1982 version you are going to see an entirely different movie than if you judge this movie on its own merit.  I'll admit to being a bit of a fanboy of the 1982 movie (It's probably worth mentioning that by all accounts the 1982 Annie isn't universally loved.  But I don't care, it has always been a movie I love).  And when I first the movie (with my son) I was very much comparing each point of the movie to its predecessor.  The second time I saw it (with my youngest, Denise), I deliberately avoided doing that.  Well, as much as I could.  And I came away the first feeling the movie fell flat, while the second time I walked out feeling I'd watched an eminently enjoyable movie. So I'll talk about the points of the movie that stood out, and I'll mention the biggest differences for me in each.  Note that the differences between 1982 and 2014 are not bad, just....different.

Annie - The role of Annie was a real highlight of the movie to me, and it all comes down to Quvenzhane Wallis.  What an amazing young (11 years old!) actress!  Her portrayal of Annie was so strong.  Throughout the movie, she kept a smile on her face.  I felt that you could feel her optimism jumping from the screen.  Annie's toughness was sharply contrasted by her moments of vulnerability, both depicted with keen precision.  Quvenzhane Wallis put her stamp on this role, and turned in an A+ performance.
The differences - Quvenzhane Wallis did a good job at the singing, but never felt as comfortable or as strong as Aileen Quinn did.  I also struggled with the manner of showing Annie's "street smarts", with her asking Stacks "What's the hustle?".  That seemed a bit off for an 11 year old.  I rather enjoyed the manner that she was focused on her parents; rather than focusing solely on the a locket they added a ritual with a restaurant that served to both deepen the sense of Annie's determination to hold on to hope and provide some great original scenes to the show.

Breakfast with Stacks (and Sandy)
Will Stacks/Daddy Warbucks - Another great piece, mostly because Jaime Foxx brought some serious acting chops to the movie.  He was just entirely believable in this role, effectively selling the eccentricities of the character in a way that never left me feeling that those traits were anything but a core piece of Mr. Stacks.  Too many times I've seen a character portrayed as a germaphobe and had it feel like an addition to a character, rather than a part of it.  No issues with that here.  And his singing was great, though I really wish they'd dropped the Auto-Tune.
The differences - I didn't struggle with any comparisons between Will Stacks and Daddy Warbucks, mostly because I didn't feel that two characters had anything in common aside from ending up with Annie.  I think that it would have been nearly impossible to give us an updated version of Daddy Warbucks without bringing the Warbucks part along - that bringing in the original anti-war profiteering message would not serve well in this movie.  Making him instead a business mogul, completely isolated and solitary worked quite well.

Ms. Hannigan - Ouch.  This one hurt to watch.  I don't know what Cameron Diaz was going for.  Every word and every action was hammed up so badly, it was literally hard for me to watch.  I may have even turned my head away once or twice to alleviate the pain - and that's never a good sign.  I just simply didn't click with this character.
The differences - The character of Ms. Hannigan suffered the most in the comparison to the original for me, because Caron Burnett's version was so memorable.  Maybe the only thing I liked about the "new" one was that they made her a failed 80s rocker that came oh-so-close to fame.  Then they mixed cheesy 80s music video moves - and sounds, in some cases - into her songs, which was entertainingly funny.  They more aggressively try to redeem her character, which I guess is okay.

The music - Full disclaimer that many reviews out there pan the music pretty thoroughly. 

Annie singing "Opportunity" - a real high point
I like the music, at least once I stopped waiting for the original music to start.  I liked the original movie music quite a lot.  And some of the songs were completely changed (I Think I'm Going to Like it Here, Little Girls) while others were just slightly altered (Tomorrow, Maybe, Easy Street, I Don't Need Anything But You) or just removed except for some Overture or background instrumentals (Sandy, Dumb Dog, You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, Let's Go To the Movies).  But they added a few songs that I really liked (This City's Yours, Opportunity, Who Am I?) and the changed to the other songs worked for me.  They seemed to fit. 

Once I listened to the songs on their own I realized how much I liked them.  Opportunity and Who Am I? are awesome.  Maybe still evokes strong emotion (and maybe some tears) for the girls.  Tomorrow is used in a completely different scene (It would be hard to do it with FDR), but it is great.  Watching Annie see reflections of people with children, only to have the reality come into frame with objects that are not kids drives home the worldview of Annie and the optimism of the song.  Annie's part of Who Am I? hit me like a truck, with the facade of courage breaking down into self-doubt.  And who can't relate to the line "I want to start again" or who hasn't felt "I don't know who I've become" at some point?  So while I realize that the music was not universally liked, I loved it.  A lot.

The movie - It's easy to focus on where the movie came up short.  It tries to be original but holds on too much to the original movie to ever stand completely on its own.  The role of Guy was just horridly shallow.  He should have worn a shirt that said "Bad "Guy"" on it.  There are two noticeable parts where the editing breaks the story flow a bit by jumping the story somewhat. 

But the bottom line for me is that they made a movie I'd see again.  They got the right stars, gave me music I loved (and am listening to as I type this), and modernized the plot in a believable way.  Quvenzhane Wallis and Jaime Foxx own the screen when they are on, and Rose Byrne was quite impressive as well.  Locations were chosen well, showcasing NYC quite well.  So I wasn't sure how much I liked it at first, but that was my fault.  I should know better than to walk into a movie with firm expectations.  When I judge this movie on its own merits, I am very satisfied.

Final rating:  Tomorrow isn't perfect, but it's looking pretty bright.


  1. Haven't seen this one yet - but have always loved the 1982 version. Can't count the many times I've watched it, but the previews for the new one didn't intrigue me enough to go see it. Good review, it made me think maybe I should watch it :)

  2. I love this break down comparison and review, you hit most of my key observations, the music, terrible, terrible Cameron Diaz, yet somehow still being intrigued by the adaptation to redeeming the character and enjoying the ridiculous new back story, Jamie and Q being perfectly cast, Jamie sounding terrific. But you didn't mention one thing. Will Gluck. Oh he of Easy A quippy cleverness. I enjoy him, felt his wordy funny sarcasm in this. I thought about Gluck did a pretty great update to it, rather than the expected remake. Love this. More please!