I SET OUT to write a piece about Annie. A cheerful review of the breezy Will-Gluck-directed, fun-for-the- whole- family holiday release. The critics are a little divided –Quvenzhané Wallis is an absolute joy/Cameron Diaz, don’t quit your day job… lol oh wait — but whatevs, I liked it. Although honestly considering the source that’s not saying much. It’s not that I’m unrefined, but I like my cheesy guilty pleasures super cheesy. That’s why my inner purist, who thumbs her nose at your Instagrammed artisan truffle mac ‘n cheese out of loyalty to Kraft, is generous with musicals. Over-the-top acting? I’ll allow it. Larger-than-life characters? Bring ’em. Musical numbers where the entire city eschews reality for three and a half minutes to dance in the streets? YES. FREAKING. PLEASE.
Those musical numbers, actually, were the parts where Annie really hit its stride. What they lacked in realism they more than compensated for with jolliness. Is there any more festive way to celebrate the holidays than jamming along with a bunch of adorable orphans to a hip-hop-infused rendition of “Tomorrow?” Yeah, duh. But it involves spiked eggnog and I can’t bring my 10-year-old cousin along.
Cozy buttery popcorn moments like those, the right song enjoyed with the right company, can kinda, I don’t know… not restore your faith in humanity — this isn’t Upworthy — but at least make you feel pretty temporarily OK about being an infinitesimal speck on this rapidly-deteriorating planet. Moments like those can make you feel light and buoyant and like maybe your wacky middle-school music teacher was right about music having the power to transcend.
Moments like those can make moments like the first time you saw this video really suck.
Obviously this video, filmed at a police retirement party at a Glendale, CA Elks Lodge (psst, contact info here, hop to it!) sucks for a lot of reasons: institutionalized racism, mockery of tragedy, absolute butchering of a legend like Jim Croce, etc. But what struck me at first was not the added devastation Michael Brown’s grieving family would feel upon viewing it, not the sh*tstorm that would be social media once this odious thing went viral, not even the sickening surrealism of a room of white cops tapping their steel-tipped toes along to ghoulish lyrics like “Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese/ his brain was splattered on the floor.” It was the casual laughter in the singer’s voice, belonging to former federal investigator turned lounge lizard Gary Fishell. The flippant giggly vocals would have been more at home in a last-call karaoke bar rendition of “Closing Time” than among the poisonous parody spewing from Fishell’s lips.
Sweet baby probably-born-in-springtime-but-celebrated-today-and-by-the-way-definitely-a-person-of-color Jesus! Is nothing sacred? Hijack our religion, our politics, our system of supposed justice. But leave us our drunken karaoke. What kind of nation are we creating for my little cousin, for Quvenzhané, for every kid who deserves to grow up in a place that’s progressed past such evil? Is this all there is, when the lights go on and the theatergoers file out, crumpling up candy-bar wrappers and blinking like newborns? We don’t have the words, and previously that wouldn’t have been a problem. Previously that’s where music would have come in. But now I’m not so sure.
Will the sun come out tomorrow? It’s possible. But I wouldn’t blame it if it took one look at us down here below before hightailing it back behind the clouds. Like, “Nope. Light would be lost on you people, and I’m too old for this sh*t.”