Annie review

There’s a scene in Annie, Will Gluck’s 2014 update of the famous comic strip turned stage musical turned film, which sees the lead characters scoff candy to excess and go wild with the freebies at a Hollywood premiere party. It seems like they’re not the only ones to get giddy on vast quantities sugar and take free reign of Hollywood’s deep pockets.

Writer-director Gluck and co-writer Aline Brosh-McKenna have bungled this new adaption of Annie spectacularly, by dialling up the story’s inherent sweetness until the audience wince. Perhaps compounding the disappointment, things don’t start off so bad.

The film opens with an amusing sequence in which a red haired kid named Annie, played by Taylor Richardson, who has has performed the role on Broadway, elicits eye-rolls from her classmates for being annoying in a class presentation. But don’t worry, in steps Annie 2.0, in the form of the less cutesy but, unfortunately, equally annoying Quvenzhané Wallis.

New Annie gets the kids involved in a musical number that explains FDR’s New Deal, which Harold Gray had infamously criticised in his original Little Orphan Annie comic strips. Following this, she takes to the streets of New York where the sounds of the city combine with music in an interesting composition that only highlights the weak songs that follow throughout the movie. This is as good as the movie gets.

Few, if any, of those involved in Annie find glory in Annie‘s musical numbers; Jamie Foxx and Bobby Carnnavale can really sing but you wouldn’t have guessed it from what’s on offer here, and everyone’s vocals are consumed by Autotune.

It’s also not as if the musical numbers are well choreographed, interestingly conceived, or well-shot and edited, often just setting a mess of activity to an annoying beat. Songs such as It’s the Hard Knock Life and Tomorrow feature infectious hooks but they’ve been drowned here by the ineptitude of their construction. Then the new songs are even worse, veering from the forgettable Who Am I? to the horribly misjudged Opportunity. Attempts to modernise existing songs are disastrous too, with I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here getting updated to be about a technologically advanced ‘Smart Home,’ complete with lots of very awkward dancing and confusing edits.

Judging by the relatively amusing and pointed Friends with Benefits and the outright brilliance of Easy A, Gluck knows a lot about self-referential comedy, but Annie fails there too. Attempts at meta-humour, bar a very funny film with the film, regularly fall flat, particularly a recurring gag about C+C Music Factory, which really isn’t funny the first time, let alone the tenth.

The film also seems to be strangely clueless about the modern world, despite the filmmakers’ enthusiasm for including smartphones, pop culture, social media and lots of technology at every turn. For instance, when Foster father Stacks saves Annie from an oncoming vehicle and this event is captured by a bystander on his smartphone and goes viral, the YouTube clip somehow features the sequence from two different angles.

What’s most infuriating about Annie, though, is how crassly it develops its from a more meaningful core. The early scene featuring the New Deal and the divide between the poor Annie and the rich Stacks suggests that the film will make some interesting points about capitalism, consumerism and an obsession with wealth, but despite Stacks’ slight change of heart, the film remains a love letter to wealth when it should have become a heartfelt statement about the importance of human interactions.

Annie is in UK and US cinemas now.