Perhaps it was low expectations and the sugary beverage I drank in the theater but I found Will Gluck’s glossy modernized film remake of the famous Broadway musical “Annie” to be perfectly decent. I realize that doesn’t sound like high praise, and it’s not but things could have been a lot worse. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised--Gluck's picture is sweet and uplifiting and boasts a great cast.
Like I said, this is a modern remake, something that Gluck and co screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna really want you to know. Smart phones, Twitter, Instagram, “selfies,” sleek computer controlled homes and the like are paraded front and center in just about every scene. Sometimes this can be kind of annoying and heavy handed, like Gluck and co. are trying really hard to shove this modern stuff down your throat. At times you want to yell, “OK we get it. This is the present.” That being said however, subtle jabs at the modern commercial film industry—an extending sequence lampooning young adult franchise movies for example—provide some of the best, most amusing moments in the entire movie, and provinding humor for the adult members of the audience. This is a family movie afterall all.
However the greatest strength “Annie” yields is the casting. As the titular optimistic orphan—excuse me, I mean “foster child”; I told you this was a modern remake-- eleven-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) does a fantastic job, making the character sweet and likable and proving yet again that she has the acting chops to carry an entire movie. The two adult leads, Jamie Foxx as jaded billionaire Will who initially uses Annie to boost his run for mayor of New York City and Rose Byrne as Will’s Vice President Grace, deliver amusing performances. Performances that are funny in a spontaneous way and rarely feel forced. The only one that does feel forced is Cameron Diaz as the mean foster mother Hannigan. I get that she’s supposed to be nasty but her portrayal is over-the-top and cartoon-y to the point where she just isn’t funny. And yet, thanks to the strength and authenticity of the other lead players, I was even able to tolerate this weak link. On top of that, the three manage to increase the quality of the more mushy, cliché sequences throughout the picture. In other words, there was never a moment where I groaned or rolled my eyes with displeasure.
Other than that, there’s not a whole lot else to say. Thankfully the movie doesn’t resort to easy gross out gags and physical humor, a crutch many recent PG family movies tend to lean on. The musical numbers look and sound somewhat overproduced—especially in regards to the vocals—but they’re well placed, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by one musical number after another and none overstay their welcome. As someone who doesn't care much for musicals, I found this particularly appealing.
“Annie” is by no means a great movie. At two hours it feels too long, especially for family fare. It’s certainly predictable; we all know that Annie’s upbeat attitude is going to mend Will’s cynical heart and those who hold the original 1982 movie or show in a high regard most likely won’t care for it. But, as someone who hasn’t seen any incarnations of the story and didn’t have have a lot of enthusiasm for the movie going in, I found it to be delightful. And I caught myself laughing throughout, sometimes very hard. I’ll never watch it again but it’s not a bad way for a family to spend an afternoon. Not a bad way at all.