Director: Will Gluck
Plot: A foster kid, who lives with her mean foster mom, sees her life change when she’s taken in by a billionaire cellular tycoon turned mayoral candidate, struggling to connect to the common people.
Pre-Analysis: It’s great going into a movie without any expectations or reviews to influence my opinion for once. All I have is are trailers that make the film look like a predictable yarn with annoying rap treads on old songs with a modern twist but its out of context, and I like the director, I like the cast and producer Will Smith.
The Long and Short: The movie is good, with effective use of updated songs, a quick pace, with light laughs spread throughout. A tolerable family film for the holidays. An in-offensive remake.
Review: I came into this movie, with not too high expectations, and they were achieved. Will Gluck is an interesting choice for a director, even if he was just chosen for availability from working with Sony Pictures (The Michael J. Fox Show, Friends With Benefits, Easy A, and Fired Up), he brings a usual modern tone to the timeless story with well placed wit. In that sense he’s a good collaborator for producers Jay-Z and Will Smith. With the latter’s charm and the former attitude, The film makes a lot of smart decisions.
For starters, knowing when to lean on its strengths, it feels trim with a breezy pace, and smartly avoids typically ghastly product placement from Sony dating the look of the film. There’s a bizarre social media/ surveillance undercurrent lifted right out of ‘The Dark Knight’ for some reason (a character made reference to more than once) which is odd tonally and ironic given the recent corporate hack that released a fresh copy of the film online. However peculiar, it’s admirable that the film does try to suggest something beyond its basic source material, even if its laughable in tone.
The entire cast is a solid diverse mix, it’s a discredit to simply label this film as a black version of Annie. It has been such a very long time since I saw the 1982 or 1999 version, and all I remember when I was little was thinking how ugly the kid who played Annie was, or how embarrassing musicals were in general. The latter sentiment seems to be shared among the filmmakers. The movie often works to move into its songs in a more natural way (no one suddenly breaks out into song without good reason) and tries to avoid the regular pomp and circumstance of most musicals. This was likely done to appeal to a wider audience, and I will say as someone not entirely akin to Broadway musicals it does work. There’s little in here that serves as an over the top song and dance number. Though the film struggles with commitment sometimes.
Miss Hannigan remarks, “Everyone loves musicals” with “people bursting into song and dance out of nowhere!” Though her voice doesn’t match up to the character she’s acclaimed to. Later in the film, she asks a fellow restaurant patron “Is he singing at me?!” Referring to Bobby Cannavale in a somewhat awkward part as Stacks’ campaign manager he’s an inconsistent character. I’m expected to laugh at one minute and dislike the next. The actor pulls off both but the movie can’t help but feel a bit confused.
In trying to be hip and occasionally old-fashioned the film can’t pull off the musical sweep or majestic choreography. The latter by its own admission, as a New Yorker quotes “If he sang and danced like that all the time he’d never become mayor!” Cameron Diaz‘s big show tune is filmed in medium to close up with a mixture tracking shots. It isn’t creative or ambitious like say a flashy well staged wide shot. It wouldn’t seem as if wide shots or majestic sweep is the directors parlay, which aside from the stock establishing and landscape shots of New York there are a few quick cuts and that’s it. They seem mostly avoided all together. It seems will Gluck cannot compose wide shots, but then again, “slick” not flashy is the film’s style.
Another downside to the committed mute musical style is it under-utilizes Jamie Foxx. The would be slam dunk casting of the musically talented actor is wasted. He rarely sings, and doesn’t play piano (despite its prop presentation). An entire song scene takes place with him along with the wonderful main lead sitting down inside a helicopter.
The focus is on ‘Annie’, along with the contemporary composition of the songs and rightly so. This might come up short on the technical and choreography front but it’s wise of the filmmakers to stick to their strengths, though it holds the film back from being more than an entertaining diversion. The picture hits a difficult sweet spot, its contemporary without trying too hard, the cast is amiable and the tone is light-hearted. The songs are well updated and softly well composed. It is successfully slick and cool, without needlessly drawing attention to itself, and most importantly by not winking at itself. Not unlike Will Smith and Jay-Z.
Production Company: Overbrook Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures, Distributor: Columbia Pictures Running Time: 118 Minutes
In Theatres: Friday, December 19th, 2014