- First of all, you have to be a fan of “Annie” period to like the new makeover starring Jamie Foxx (whom I adore) and Quvenzhané Wallis, whom I adore now. As it turns out, I am a fan of “Annie,” especially the the musical since I have now become the mother of Drake the Butler. (My son Ezra recently got the part of Drake for the upcoming middle school production of “Annie,” so of course Drake is my favorite character ever.) Actually, I have an extremely high threshold for sugar-dusted musical theater of any kind.
- If you’re not a fan of any “Annie” incarnation, like my movie critic pal John Serba, who called “Tomorrow” a syrupy earworm of a song in his latest review, you could just skip the whole thing and pretend there is no remake, and go see something critically acclaimed and non-sugar dusted. Unless of course you are a parent with time on your hands this Christmas break, and there is no escape for you and yours. Then you’re seeing it for sure.
- I like “Tomorrow”—so sue me. To me, it’s a song about optimism in the face of life’s brokenness. Too sweet? Too “cloying” (a popular word used to describe anything with even a spoonful of sugar)? I don’t care. It is, after all, a hard knock life. We could all stand a little dose of good cheer and sunniness to cast away the gloom.
- I was a little nervous to see the new “Annie” because of this evaluation from the brilliant blog Rage Against the Minivan. Sight unseen, I agreed with the writer about this: “Adoptive parents who are parenting kids who spent time in foster care, who were adopted at an older age, or who experienced abandonment may want to preview the movie first. All adoptive parents should leave time and space after the movie to process, as it’s likely to bring up a variety of feelings for our kids.” Yes, adoptive parents might want to go into “Annie” with a little bit of caution, because it’s sure to stir some stuff.
- We went anyway, without a preview, and it was fine, except for…
- It stirred up some stuff—in me, but for my girl. Knowing what I know now about being adopted (I’ve had 46 years of experience), I know things about Annie’s narrative that my own girl, almost 10, doesn’t know yet. Annie longs for connection with her missing people, her original family. Every Friday night, she visits the curb outside the Italian restaurant where she was left. She’s searching for them in the only place she knows to look. Wallis is so cute it’s ridiculous, and a gifted actress, but even she can’t pull off the wistfulness that is tucked inside the spirit of every adopted child. No matter how old we are, we all want to know what happened to our missing family members.
- Watching “Annie” together is a good chance to talk about and maybe demystify that scary topic—our children’s first mothers. My friend Susan TeBos, an author, adoptive mom, and adoption advocate, says it SO well: “Feelings are tricky. They can stir up all sorts of commotion, lies that kids will believe. If we don’t help our kids sort out their feelings the lies will win,” she says. “Casually invite him (or her) to talk about first mom…then offer him something new he needs to know, like that she loved but was young or that she feared, or that she was unable. Help him see first mom was fallible like you and I are fallible. Ask him what he wants to know about her, what he misses.” (I know, this can be terrifying.)
- The “O” word is okay. I’m talking about “orphan,” a word so loaded some adoption agencies don’t use it because it is not “positive adoption language.” No one wants an orphan label tattooed on their beloved child—I get that. But the bigger, stronger reality? Our kids feel things that go beyond language and labels, no matter what we call them. Annie herself eschews “orphan” for the more PC “foster kid,” but is that such an improvement? As far as I can tell, Annie is a card-carrying orphan, and pretending she isn’t doesn’t help a dang thing. The orphan archetype looms large in our storytelling, from Frozen’s Anna to Annie to Anne of Green Gables, and from Captain America to Superman and Spiderman and beyond. The orphan in each one of us responds to this narrative, told in a never-ending loop. And any adopted child is going to wonder where they fit into all of it, even if they don’t voice it. My new memoir was actually triggered by my girl’s question, at age seven, “What’s an orphan?”
9. The movie made me ache on behalf of older foster children, with almost no hope of adoption. While the movie highlighted the plight of foster children, moved around like cattle, thrown in with people who sometimes value a check from the state more than their fosters, it also did them a disservice. The movie demonized foster parents via poor, tuneless Cameron Diaz. Yes, there are bad foster parents out there, but there are also good, brave, wonderful ones. Also: There was NO resolution for Annie’s foster sisters, except to have them singing and dancing at the end, sooooo happy for Annie. (Well, maybe there was a smidgen of hope, but that would be a spoiler!) We leave the cute, bitter Pepper and her pals with the impression that little will change for them, and that’s the saddest thing of all.
10. I’m not going to add much to the Cameron Diaz hate, but the girl was woefully miscast here. Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan (in the 1982 film) was a hilarious, darkly comic triumph; she played Miss Hannigan to perfection. Diaz is just…not great.
11. Much funnier is Stephanie Kurtzuba, who steals scenes as an unmoved Russian child-welfare bureaucrat.
12. There’s no Drake the Butler here, so points off for THAT! As Drake’s mother, I do not approve.
13. Love it or hate it, the new “Annie” could be a jumping off point for conversations about adoption and birth families, and we adoptive mamas and papas need those jumping off points.
Even if adoption isn’t a factor in your family, the movie could spur a good talk about the fact that money can’t buy love or happiness. As a New York Times piece about the movie pointed out, “We get the greatest joy from our relationships and shared experiences with those people we love, not from the things we own.”
Hopefully we can all agree on that.