This week, Cineast offers previews of the new musical Annie film and Wild starring Reese Witherspoon, which screened this October at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
“I don’t like musicals.” How many people do you know who will say that when the subject of musicals is even slightly touched upon? While such people always dress up these blanket statements with little flourishes of elementary sophistry like, “I just don’t understand why the characters keep bursting into song,” they may as well protest things like the fact that all of the action in a conventional play takes place on a platform in front of an audience, or the fact that characters in movies don’t seem to use the bathroom very much. That being said, given the fact that most people’s exposure to musicals has been compromised high school productions or lousy film adaptations (it’s devilishly hard to make a good film of a stage musical), it’s little wonder that people might THINK they don’t like musicals. They’ve seldom if ever seen one done well. Annie is a case in point. The show, based on a comic strip, was brought to the screen in the ’80s in a notoriously flawed film version. Now it has been updated—the character Annie in the new version is an African American child living in a foster home, not an orphanage (do such things exist anymore?) and her benefactor, played by Jamie Foxx, is also African American. Don’t worry, though. The new Annie still has the songs “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.”
I could be really out of it, but I can’t seem to recall any Reese Witherspoon films where she played troubled souls. Maybe it was her priceless Barbie Doll impersonation in the Legally Blonde films that has drowned out any memories of Witherspoon as anything but a chirpy sprite dancing on a rainbow. Or perhaps what stands in my way of taking Witherspoon so seriously is her star-making turn in the dark comedy Election, in which she played the goody-two-shoes overachiever Tracy Flick so convincingly—Little Miss Perfect wrapped up in the inconsequential dramas of high school politics—that Witherspoon and Flick became inseparable in my mind. If many others share my situation, it might be hard for Witherspoon to convince in Wild, in which she plays a heroin addict who has hit bottom, who has essentially run away from her life into a life of indiscriminate sex with strangers, but who wants to find a way back. Her path to sobriety and health? The 1,000-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which she decides to walk alone, with a heavy backpack, and on which she will confront her demons. If you’re like me, you’re saying, “C’mon—little Reesey, with her cute little chin?” But we should, in all fairness, give her the benefit of the doubt and try to be open-minded. Based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed.