Saturday, January 10, 2015
Great musicals play out like pure fantasies; reality is usually thrown out the window. The musical sequences tend to have dazzling dance moves, coordinated color and decor, an elaborate production design. Even if a musical is set in "the real world," like "Once," at least something is done to make the musical scenes seem special as opposed to feeling like an after-thought.
"Annie" is an interesting case study of what not to do when you're making a musical. Look-wise, this is as bland as it gets. The original musical took place during the Great Depression; this Annie is set in modern day New York City. OK, so perhaps the filmmakers feel this material is ample grounds for an update. I agree. We've been through a rough recession and casting Annie as a young black girl instead of a curly redhead is an inspired choice. It doesn't hurt when you cast the endlessly charming Quvenzhane Wallis. She already has a well-deserved Oscar nomination under her belt, following that up by playing Annie in a brand new, updated version of the musical seems like a no-brainer, honestly.
Wallis is perfectly fine as the title character, it's just too bad the actors around her seem to have no idea what to do with the material. To make things worse, the co-writer/director Will Gluck has placed her in the aforementioned setting of modern day NYC, but makes zero attempts to make the city look special. That's where the blandness comes in.
There's no attempt to make New York City seem magical, or conversely, nothing is done to emphasize any harsh, ghetto conditions. Annie is supposed to be living in an orphanage, but here it seems she lives in a safe, gentrified version of Harlem (I haven't been up there in quite some time, perhaps it really looks like that nowadays). There's just no semblance of taste when it comes to the look and cinematography of the film. There's nothing special about the film's use of lighting. It all just looks so... bleh. There's no pizzazz here. None.
The only thing that makes "Annie" watchable is because of how hilariously awkward this whole thing is. Because the movie looks so plain and boring, the actors that surround Quvenzhane Wallis act as if they're in an entirely different movie. They seem to think they're in this big, wacky, weird fantasy world so they act wacky. As a result, the "comedy" in this film feels embarrassingly over-the-top. Director Will Gluck made three comedies before "Annie," but that's hard to believe because of how off the comic-timing is in this film. Too often, there are little jokes in the film that are spoken and then just go nowhere. You know when you think you've said something funny but nobody seems to have heard you so nobody noticed? That's "Annie" in a nutshell.
The acting in the film ranges from uncomfortable to horrid. Bobby Cannavale and Cameron Diaz both give equally cringe-inducing performances. The 1982 version of "Annie" featured Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, Cameron Diaz couldn't shine Burnett's shoe. Her performance is an insult to all that is funny. Maybe it's not completely her fault, but I'm reminded of her performance from last year's misfire "The Counselor." Two years in a row, two bad performances. Was she always this bad? Or is she simply trying to stretch herself, failing miserably in the process? I don't hate Cameron Diaz, but if I could erase her performance in "Annie" from my memory, I would be a much happier man.
Cannavale is just as bad, but his problem is more of a symptom of poor directing (and, to be fair, that sentiment could be applied to Diaz in many ways). Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, and Quvenzhane Wallis each approach their performances with at least an ounce of realism, so Cannvale's cartoonish-ness stands out like a sore thumb. It's just awkward. And because this movie was seemingly written by people who have no real sense of humor, each joke that comes out Cannavale's mouth is the equivalent to a stand-up comedian bombing on stage.
"Annie" is almost like a car accident that you can't look away from. It had potential. It was the right idea. But the overall execution is just so lazy and dull, it ultimately winds up feeling like a giant waste of time. No memorable musical sequences to speak of and the original songs in the film are as exciting to watch as a Yanni music video. Yanni. What a terrible reference. This movie is so bad, it's making me say dumb jokes. I think it's time to end this review before I say something even dumber.
*Though Quvenzhane Wallis gets an A-