The 400-Word Review: Annie

By Sean Collier

December 30, 2014

This musical number is even more unrealistic than your typical musical number.

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It’s less than fully accurate to describe Annie, the musical film from director Will Gluck, as an adaptation of the classic show of the same name. Sure, some familiar songs are in there, and the story loosely follows the rags-to-riches path of the original. But the genesis of this Annie is not the broadway stage of the 1970s; it’s late-90s radio.

Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” a huge hit in late 1998, used the chorus of the musical’s “It’s The Hard Knock Life” to undeniably catchy effect; the single was irresistible, as a hip-hop beat gave surprising heft to the defiant, sing-song melody of the original tune. 2014’s Annie is that Jay-Z track turned into a full-length movie; an urban retelling of the story for all ages and demographics, with a mix of old songs and (out-of-place) new wannabe hits. Want proof? Jay-Z is a producer on the film.

To their credit, Jay-Z and his half-dozen co-producers (also including Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) nearly created a quality adaptation solely with one casting decision. Eleven-year-old former Best Actress nominee Quvenzhané Wallis is beyond perfect as Annie; she doesn’t just carry the tunes, she carries the film with a funny, charming and restrained performance. If Annie is worth seeing, it’s worth seeing for Wallis, who runs circles (figuratively and literally) around most of her cast mates with an irresistible flair. She’s clearly having a great time, and it’s a joy to see.


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of most of her cast mates. Cameron Diaz’s boozing Miss Hannigan isn’t believable for a minute, and succeeds at being irritating only accidentally; the pre-adolescent Wallis makes Diaz look like a clueless amateur. Jamie Foxx is occasionally passable as Will Stacks, the neo-Daddy Warbucks, but never seems particularly invested in the project (and, surprisingly, is especially unimpressive in song). Rose Byrne is an exception, warm and funny as Stacks’ longtime assistant.

Wallis is the only dash of heart in the project, as the overall feel is that of a sterile marketing opportunity. It’s especially unfortunate that this adaptation appears only six days before the release of Into the Woods, a vastly superior work with actual passion behind it. In the middle of summer or a lull on the release calendar, Wallis might’ve lifted Annie to a fairly warm reception; a week before Christmas, the film has six days before it’ll be erased from memory.

My Rating: 5/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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