Writer-director Chris Brown makes a play for the “And You Thought Your Family Was Crazy” sweepstakes with Fanny, Annie & Danny, a short, low-budgeted, tart-tongued indie feature that tells the story of a neurotic family (an elderly couple and their three grown children) as they converge on the old homestead for their annual Christmas dinner. Brown’s characters are grotesque but only slightly exaggerated. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you might find that the near-caricatures in this family cut pretty close to the bone.
Brown’s script is full of supporting evidence. The matriarch’s level of control is so severe, she has a hinged aperture in her front door (like a speakeasy) to deny entry should a guest arrive even 20 minutes earlier than what’s on the schedule. One daughter (Jilly Pixley, Fanny of the title) is a barely functioning adult with signs of Aspergers, or maybe it’s just that she’s had her will drained out of her by the kind of mother who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to carry on a full conversation with someone while they’re on the toilet. Annie (Carlye Pollack), the other sister, wears a thicker armor of responsibility and carries a relatively level head, but she’s also far more apt to blow her stack at the slightest provocation. Danny (Jonathan Leveck), the favorite son, a good boy who’s made it big as a band manager, has the coolest head by far, but he’s also carrying around the weight of some recent professional snafus that reveal his fiscal irresponsibility and a feeble sense of ethics.
Overlooking a handful of continuity flubs and some overly emphatic crosscutting, you want to give Fanny, Annie & Danny credit for having loads of technical competence for a film of its pedigree. Brown also keeps his camera refreshingly tripod-bound for the duration, managing nevertheless to convey an overwhelming sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction. You also don’t want to dock the film too many points for “written-sounding” dialogue, or choices made by characters that often too neatly serve the overall concept, at the expense of a more insightful approach. Brown’s dialogue may “sound written,” but it’s written well.
Looking at it as a more conventionally minded variation on Roman Polanski’s Carnage, I tended to like the film best for the way Brown resisted belaboring any of his seriocomic observations: Like the mother of the film (Colette Keen), he keeps the party on a tight schedule. As a writer, he creates convincing types, down to small roles outside the family—such as Fanny and Annie’s respective bosses, or Danny’s business associates. The cast performs at a uniformly high caliber, though it’s George Killingsworth as the father—cushioned by decades of putting up with his harridan wife—who stands out, moving through the picture, mostly in the background, with a kind of apathetic grace. It’s disappointing that the final events of the story seem mechanically correct, but emotionally too expedient, but you take away from it what you can.