I knew we were going to Jamie Foxx’s Annie the first few bars into the trailer several months ago. My wife is a big fan of the 1982 Annie starring Aileen Quinn and Albert Finney, and she didn’t have to say anything. I wondered if a hard knock life with a black Annie and a black Daddy Warbucks could do anything different with the story. (Of course, the New Deal isn’t really immediately relevant to kids today, but was it in 1982?) Could Foxx and Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhane Wallis captivate audiences the same way?
I was pleasantly surprised. Then, I came home and found this was the ‘consensus review’ on Rottentomatoes.com: “The new-look Annie hints at a progressive take on a well-worn story, but smothers its likable cast under clichés, cloying cuteness, and a distasteful materialism.” Um, seriously, did we see the same film?
Annie (Wallis) escapes from the clutches of her foster parent, Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), weekly, attempting to reunite with the parents who abandoned her years before. She accidentally runs into phone magnate and mayoral candidate, Will Stacks (Foxx), and instantly becomes a ploy for gaining percentage points by his advisors, the sleazy Guy (Bobby Canavale) and the well-meaning Grace (Rose Byrne), which, of course, grows into something more. Those are all basically plays on the same points, right?
But ultimately, Annie teaches Stacks to care and to recognize that wealth and power aren’t the most important thing. If anything, the materialism gets condemned pretty well — and right before Christmas no less. The redemption isn’t left solely to Stacks though – even if Guy deserves more comeuppance than he gets – because Miss. Hannigan’s turnabout was, for me, the moment that the film mattered for more than entertainment’s sake.
I imagine, if you’re going to see Annie and you’re reading this ahead, that the point isn’t going to keep you from it. But Diaz’s Hannigan recognizes her errors, her own obsessions, and the belief that her admirer (David Zayas) has in her is rewarded. She recognizes that the bitterness and alcoholism is the aftershock of her own betrayal and abandonment; while Annie has been abandoned, she’s not bitter – she’s the one encouraging others.
Two points remained with me after the film. The first is that we can’t control our situations all the time, but we can control our reaction – and what we exhibit (it’s the same lesson we learn in Unbroken). The second is more specific: that there are kids in our schools and streets and communities who need love – and literacy. I’m aware that some of those kids have parents who are trying really hard amidst work and life to care for them; I also know that many of them are homeless or, in every regard that matters, orphaned. It’s up to us to recognize what we can do and do it. But we can’t imagine for a moment that Annie is just a cute story with music; it’s the reality of some kids’ situations and we can do something about it.
At Christmastime, people seem more receptive to the message that there is hope – that the dark doesn’t have to win, that it’s a hard knock life but it doesn’t have to stay that way. That’s the hope found in the baby in the manger, in the cross and the empty tomb, and in organizations like United Methodist Family Services that aid at-risk kids and children who need adopting. You can do something about it- everyone can make a difference.
To learn more, visit www.umfs.org.