Monday, August 1, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Fanny, Annie & Danny, by SM Crowningshield

Fanny, Annie & Danny delves into ground that Hollywood has broken into many times before, the dreaded dysfunctional family holiday. In fact, the theme resonates enough with audiences that itʼs become a movie-type. Consider this excerpt from The Big Wigʼs Movie Makinʼ  Bible (pg. 83)*:

THE DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY HOLIDAY movie shall be a dark comedy, bitter dark. This movie shall begin with an out-of-touch sibling who shall come home unexpectedly for the holidays. Each sibling shall represent personality extremes, at least one shall have a money, drug, or impotence problem (or why not all three?). A wacky significant other shall join the fun. Tempers shall flare and aggravated hijinks shall forthrightly ensue. The bitter dark comedy shall then become sweet, resolutions sprinkled with a touch of schmaltz shall occur and shall do so just as the oven dings with the beautiful turkey dinner

So Fanny, Annie and Danny, three siblings, are coming home for the dreaded dysfunctional family holiday. In this case, itʼs Christmas -- albeit to be held a week early simply because the domineering matriarch says so. But this is indie cinema, not Hollywood, and happily the director and writer Chris Brown knew he didnʼt have to play by the rules. He starts off from the playbook, sure, but letʼs just say that the beautiful turkey dinner never quite arrives.

We first meet Fanny playing a recorder -- not a flute! -- in her room at a group home. Fanny keeps her hands obsessively clean while her room remains a complete mess. Her sister Annie is a dental assistant whoʼs constantly thinking about her wedding (to the wacky significant other) despite the fact that she herself has set the date nearly two years away. And then thereʼs Danny, the big shot in LA who hasnʼt been back home for a while but suddenly announces that heʼs coming for Christmas.

Itʼs this sequence that puts the family dynamic on display. Dad, who takes Dannyʼs call, mumbles a pleasantry as he continues doddering passively about his day. He maintains a blank stare whether heʼs in the shed rifling through war mementos or on the couch-suffering through his dictatorial-wifeʼs constant shouts. The delightful raspy-voiced Colette Keenʼs mother Edie tolerates no dissent (or, for some reason, Fanny) and quashes it quickly with a grinding shout. Yet her heart suddenly switches on with the mere mention of Danny. Her raspy yell turns to a raspy burble of joy. Such an obvious bias toward her brother should bother Annie, but sheʼs too busy with her own fawning to notice.

There are many things that Fanny, Annie & Danny doesnʼt quite succeed at, but this is an example of what it gets right. It doesnʼt feel the need to explain each character, it doesnʼt point too boldly at what you the audience are supposed to notice. The entire family only seems to like the one member who they donʼt really know. Director and writer Chris Brown lets you see this without putting it dead center in a close up. Overall, the script has a casual take on this particular dysfunctional family holiday and the characters that inhabit it, and thatʼs a good thing.

But such casualness doesnʼt work for everything. Some scenes in Fanny, Annie & Danny fall flat, and the actors arenʼt always completely in sync with their own characters. An early scene in which Fanny hears bad news from her boss seems to meander around lost, taking far too long to deliver very little information (or interest). But you can easily argue whether this is an attempt at mimicking real life or not. Many indie films refuse to make tidy scenes with the proper “bump” at the end to roll you into the next, and many of them succeed at it. The direction, acting, and editing here occasionally succeed, but perhaps too often donʼt.

The things that this movie does well, it does very well. There are absolutely moments of brilliance, such as the MIDI-music enhanced lead up to the final shot. But the things that it does poorly take their toll and no doubt for some people, that toll may prove a bit too high. Nonetheless, Fanny, Annie & Danny is a functional movie about dysfunctional family holidays. Just make sure you toss out your copy of The Big Wigʼs Movie Makinʼ  Bible when you see that turkey go into the oven.

* = Canʼt find this particular title on Amazon? Uh...keep looking.

F, A & D plays at the White Sands International Film Festival, Sat, Aug 27th @ 10am. Q&A following with filmmaker Chris Brown and actor Jill Pixley. 

Fanny Website

Written by S.M. Crowningshield

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