Spoiler Alert Sunday :: my thoughts on Annie

21 Dec

I was a kid who did theatre, which is to say that I had an Annie phase.  I was never actually in Annie, though I had friends that were, but I wanted to be when I was little.  It’s a quintessential little girl musical, which is to say it’s a musical with a bunch of little girls in it.  So though those days have passed, and I find the musical in its original form slightly cloying now, I’m still relatively familiar with it.

I’ve joked with people that casting Quvenzhané Wallis was the only thing that could possibly have made me care about this movie.  I’ve seen the original movie, I’ve seen the one from 1999 with Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, I’ve seen several amateur productions, and generally, I’m kind of over it.  But I do adore Quvenzhané Wallis (and the racist rage about the fact that Annie is being played by a black girl has been horrifying, fascinating, and something that would prompt me to see the movie just on principle) so I’ve been up for this for a while.

Overall, it’s a very pleasant and acceptable film.  As expected, Miss Wallis was the highlight (she’s not necessarily a Broadway-quality singer, but that’s true of lots of performers in musical movies, and she did very nicely with it).  She’s this really ideal mix of adorable charisma and sass and emotional vulnerability and optimism, and that helped eons.  Also, she managed to make Being In A Musical Number look natural, which is important, especially in a movie where the extras you’re walking by on the street don’t often become your backup dancers.

Of the adults, I favored Grace (Rose Byrne) and not just because of the reasons of her being gorgeous and British and competent and babbly (and we all know that that combination is lethal for me).  Her contributions to musical numbers were the least awkward, her voice was pleasant enough, and her expanded role as an assistant to, erm, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) gave her more to do than stage!Grace generally has so that was nice.  Foxx himself was competent enough when acting but, perhaps because nearly all of his musical contributions were either remixed or new additions or perhaps because it’s just always uncomfortable for that sort of character to break out singing given their uptight nature, his songs made me choke back laughter more than once.

And Cameron Diaz’ Miss Hannigan… kept reminding me of this terrible movie my friends and I tried to write in the eighth grade.   We just compiled a list of songs that seemed vaguely relevant to our middle school experience and wrote a plot around them, and as the seventh graders at our school put on Annie when we were eighth graders and some of our friends were in it, “Little Girls” ended up on the list.  It didn’t really fit with the overall plot (which was, if I recall, about a group of friends, most of whom were heteronormatively romantically paired up and two of whom [to be played by myself and a friend of mine] were awkward singleton twin sisters) so we came up with a really elaborate contrivance where the twins’ mother was a failed actress whose attempt at having a big break was as Miss Hannigan in Annie, so when she got drunk she liked to recreate scenes and musical numbers pertaining to said thing.  This film’s Miss Hannigan was… a failed singer who lost her attempt at having a big break and got drunk and liked to perform those musical numbers spontaneously.  Which is to say that I kept wondering about her life choices.  Also, I was thoroughly disappointed that there was no Rooster or Lily in this version, and rather embarrassed by this remixed “Easy Street,” now a duet with political manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale, who’s a great skeeze).

The crew of Annie’s fellow foster kids served their purpose and cutely.  They had a bit more to do throughout the story, which was nice; while I wasn’t quite sure why they were helping Miss Hannigan audition actors to scam Stacks and Annie, I did appreciate their role in the climactic car and helicopter chase.  (If you asked me before today did I think there was going to be a climactic car and helicopter chase in Annie I would have laughed out loud.)  All of them were on their phones, but using social media to basically play detective, and strangers were posting information about Annie’s whereabouts to social media, allowing people to be up-to-date and allowing them to thwart the evil plot that was afoot.  And that was so nice!  Of course since Stacks was a cell phone mogul there were the requisite “cell phones are evil” jokes, but the chase scene provided an important counterpoint to that.

Sometimes this film was relatively meta.  The opening scene, with a little redheaded Annie reading a rah-rah report and tap dancing, was a rather obvious fakeout; there were other comments here and there that served.  Also, the movie premiere was hilariously ridiculous, mostly because of the fake movie itself (anyone else notice that they did the credits in a font that looked suspiciously like Twilight font?) and because of the nature of the swag, too.  And I do like relatively meta things.

Also, the twist of Annie being illiterate because she slipped through the cracks at school and was good at faking it was interesting to me.  There was your overt sociopolitical commentary.  And the conclusion, with her having learned to read at least somewhat and also with Stacks having opened a literacy center, was sweet and good.

Finally, we can add Tracie Thoms to the collection of musically talented actors cast in musical films in a non-singing role, otherwise known as the “wasted talent” list.  (Like Idina Menzel in Enchanted, or mostly like Jonathan Groff in Frozen, or apparently like Brian d’Arcy James on Smash.)

–your fangirl heroine.

bad girl shenanigans

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