Tuesday, December 23, 2014
If you want to know what’s wrong with Hollywood, look no further than the Golden Globe nomination for young Quvenzhane Wallis for “Annie.”
This moppet came to fame with a performance (in the thoroughly unpleasant “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) that had the precocity knobs turned up to eleven and, in this wildly uneven update of the trusty musical, manifests a mediocre singing voice and a lack of rhythm worthy of my own terpsichorean flailings. Her reward in this era of racialized political correctness? An Oscar nom (maybe she can give acting lessons to Donald Sutherland, who’s yet to receive one) and now this ignominious nod that proves the HFPA isn’t that far removed from Pia Zadora and “The Tourist.”
In the 1982 John Huston version I grew up on, Aileen Quinn brought a resolutely un-pretty, tomboyish pluck to the titular orphan – now a foster kid – and Wallis could use more of that hardscrabble grit and moxie and less mugging for the camera. Director and co-writer Will Gluck has choreographed a “Hard Knock Life” and “Maybe” that set a high bar, and an oddly intriguing “Tomorrow” in which Annie imagines adult passers-by are carrying children rather than groceries and packages. But his new songs are god-awful – each more instantly forgettable than the last – and what he’s done to “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” “Easy Street,” and especially “Little Girls” borders on the criminal. Cameron Diaz is a gifted comedienne (as she showed in this year’s “The Other Woman”); let her Miss Hannigan take these numbers on straight and she’ll give you scenes worthy of mention in the same breath with Carol Burnett’s. (I did like her backstory as a one-time backup singer-dancer for C & C Music Factory.)
Among the supporting players, only Jamie Foxx, as cell phone magnate Will Stacks, has what you might call a singing voice. His interactions with Wallis range from awkward to casually amusing. Rose Byrne appeals in the perpetually underwritten part of Grace Farrell. I don’t think Bobby Cannavale, as Stacks’ slimy campaign manager, will put this slapstick performance in his highlight reel. Best of the lot is Stephanie Kurtzuba, as the thickly accented social services clerk who processes Stacks’ adoption of Annie, and steals a few tchotchkes (and a few musical numbers) along the way. If anyone deserves positive recognition for this bland and overlong “Annie,” it is she.