If you’re going to remake a movie like Annie, you’ve got to do it big! So when I first saw previews for this movie, my instinct was doubt. Then, when I saw the scenes between Will Stacks (Jamie Fox) and Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) I thought it could be good to see the story updated. Though set in the 1930’s, there are certainly timeless elements to the idea of a ruthless billionaire’s heart being thawed by an optimistic girl with no parents.
So the question is: Did they do it big?
This movie came frustratingly close at times to being great, but ultimately I can see why reviews are only so-so. (I didn’t read them in advance. I stubbornly refused, wanting to make my own decision.) Among other things, Little Orphan Annie was in the foster care system rather than an orphanage, a nice modern update. Billionaire Will Stacks was a cell phone tycoon with a smart home that catered to his every whim. They even updated and deepened the relationship between these two characters. Annie was unable to read, a nice new tidbit that made her situation feel more real. Stacks had a bit of backstory as well. I particularly liked how they got together in the first place — not a random pick but a calculated move to win a mayoral race. Annie, street-smart as she was, knew what he was after right away and drove a hard bargain.
This story remained a musical in this version, a decision I was uncertain about throughout, although I did like hearing the familiar, well-loved songs from the original alongside a couple of new songs.
The big problem with this movie is that they didn’t own it. While Annie came across as genuine, most of the other characters felt like charicatures of themselves. This was never more true than with Mrs. Hannigan, played by Cammeron Diaz — a worse casting choice I have rarely seen. She overplayed the bitter, drunk to the point of absurdity and never for a moment made me believe it. I assume she got the role because she’s a big name, but she failed to portray any depth of character, which made her eventual redemption arc difficult to swallow.
Rose Byrne as Grace did an adequate job, but some of her lines were painful and I felt like she didn’t believe them when she delivered them. (Not that I could entirely blame her.) Ultimately, this character managed to portray even less personality than she did in the original. And Jamie Fox (William Stacks), though he did a good job with the direction he was given, was just a little too exaggerated … especially with the whole spitting food out thing.
If there’s one thing that defines modern times and modern acting it’s a genuine delivery. This has been slow in coming. Exaggeration is a stage actor’s tool, necessary to relay a sense of emotion to a crowded theater that can’t see the fine details on his face. But as the cameras have zoomed in, honesty is becoming more and more the norm in dramatic films. Musicals still do tend to the absurd, perhaps in part because it is absurd to randomly jump into song and dance. And I think the makers of this movie knew that, because they actually pointed out the fact more than once (and not in a way I found satirically funny — it just called the flaw to attention).
All of which brings me back to my original assertion: If you’re going to redo a movie like Annie, you’ve got to do it big. You’ve got to mean it. You’ve got to own it. And I’m afraid the writers, directors, and actors did not do that in the 2014 version of the show.
It’s not bad. If you love the story, maybe just wait to rent it.