by Sam Robinson
Rated PG. Starring Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz. Directed by Will Gluck.
It’s a hard-knock life for orphan – sorry, foster kid – Annie Bennett.
The famous musical has received a modern coat of paint, courtesy of big name producers Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jay-Z. There’s no red-headed freckled girl in the lead role (although there’s a cheeky gag about this in the film’s opening scene), instead Annie is a winsome ten-year-old African-American with a positive outlook on life, hoping to find her parents again. She waits for them outside a New York restaurant each Friday night, befriends those in her neighbourhood and endures her scathing alcoholic carer, Miss Hannigan (Diaz). A chance run-in with billionaire phone company magnate Will Stacks (Foxx) changes Annie’s life forever as she becomes a pawn in his rise to become mayor of NYC and improve his public image.
It’s highly likely that you would be familiar with the original 1977 musical. It’s a darling story of rags to riches, alienation to belonging – and this film adaptation retains much of that sentiment. However in updating the film to a hip modern setting, some distractions are set in place. Many jokes don’t fire, and references to George Clooney and meta musical gags just feel awkward. Overt placement of such randomly unnecessary products as Windex and Purell hand sanitiser become tiresome. And perhaps my biggest gripe with Annie is Cameron Diaz – she is horribly miscast in the role of Hannigan and struggles to be convincing as an intoxicated nasty player. The original song she sings should have been left on the editing room floor.
While Annie has problems, it is still quite a positive and enjoyable film. Most of the musical numbers feature clever choreography which reminds you this is a stage show on screen. Wallis is a star on the rise, and the stunning aerial shots of New York City will entice you to book a holiday.
The heart of Annie is the hope that Annie will find her parents, or at least belonging in a home that will love and care for her. She doesn’t like being called an orphan, preferring to be labelled a foster kid. As is explained through the song Hard-Knock Life, Annie’s life ‘sucks’. But she remains positive all the while, hopeful for a redeemer to take her in for life.
This film reminded me that the Bible calls us to extend love to everyone, including the vulnerable and needy, in our communities. James 1:27 talks about a life that responds to faith in Christ with good deeds:
‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’
Following Jesus involves caring for others as Christ has loved us. He has adopted us as sons and daughters (Eph 1) and being part of his family means living for him with our whole hearts, and loving others as he has loved us. Not just orphans and the needy – but everyone. Stacks’ initial motivation for caring for Annie is popularity, but our motivation ought to be selfless, sacrificial love. There’s a great scene in Annie where Stacks feeds homeless people for the sake of press cameras but his strategy backfires when he tries the food and spurts it out in repulsion. God calls us to only be motivated by the gospel, and love others with genuine hearts.
Annie keeps fairly faithful to the original musical, but could have gone the extra mile to be truly fresh and interesting. I’m giving it two-and-a-half stars.
Annie is screening now in cinemas everywhere.