“Annie” Is a (Great Big Fun) Mess

Annie

Annie (Will Gluck, 2014)

I know I should somehow feel deeply ashamed of myself – especially since I am at odds with the general critical consensus – but I did not dislike Annie. In fact, I had a pretty good time watching it. It features very likeable performers, catchy tunes and some wittily trenchant social and political commentary. It’s also deeply flawed, story-wise, and occasionally technically deficient, so it’s by no means a masterpiece. But it deserves to find an audience. Heck, if Exodus: Gods and Kings can take the #1 spot on its opening weekend (and that film had absolutely nothing going for it), then why not Annie? Compared to the former, Annie is a living, breathing (and singing!) work of art.

It probably helps that I have never cared one iota about Annie the Broadway musical – and have never seen John Huston’s 1982 movie version (just let that sink in – John Huston!), and so had no expectations whatsoever going into the screening. I’ve also never read the Little Orphan Annie comic strip – other than catching the freaky blanked-out eyes of the titular characters in the funny pages as a kid – on which the entire series of adaptations are based. My mind, when it comes to Annie, was as blissfully empty as was her original incarnation’s gaze

So what do we have? A zippy little frivolity celebrating a racially diverse New York City starring a lovely Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), a solid Jamie Foxx (Ray – he has the best singing voice of this cast, for sure), a delightful (as always) Rose Byrne (Neighbors), a great (also as always) Bobby Canavale (Blue Jasmine) and a mostly overacting-but-occasionally-funny Cameron Diaz (Sex Tape, where she was much better). After seeing the film, I can’t get “It’s a Hard Knock Life” out of my head (a good and bad thing). I am not a specific fan of musicals, so what’s up with my generosity towards this thing?

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t take itself at all seriously, and opens with a wonderful way of moving beyond the traditional redheaded white-girl Annie to our new (African-American) protagonist (I won’t spoil it by describing it). There are problems, to be sure. In a few of the early numbers, the post-dubbed syncing is not great (that “technical deficiency I mentioned earlier), and some of the dance sequences would benefit from actual choreography. The weaknesses of the source story are not erased (rich guy rescues poor orphan girl without anyone addressing the core issues of what causes poverty and how one can help the poor in meaningful ways), and there are major holes in the plot throughout (just one – why does the NYPD have jurisdiction in New Jersey, at the end?). But the movie has energy and panache, and arrives just in time for the holidays. It’s a great family picture. Go, and take your kids, if you have them.

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