Yet another portrait of family dysfunctionality climaxing in horrible holiday togetherness, “Fanny, Annie & Danny” exerts inevitable train-wreck fascination, even if writer-director Chris Brown’s third feature feels a tad less empathetic — and thus less resonant — than his prior features, “Daughters” and “Scared New World.” With every character interaction an astringent one, this California clan’s company is a tad monotonous, though funny in a blackly comedic way. Pic should travel well on the fest circuit before finding niche DVD berths.With each character introduced in his or her own orbit, it takes some time to realize the titular thirtysomething principals are siblings. Fanny (Jill Pixley) is a severely antisocial, obsessive-compulsive clinical case who lives in a group home (where she’s wearing out her welcome) and is ill equipped to cope with the closure of the candy factory that employs her. Dental assistant Annie (Carlye Pollack) is no picnic, either, her need to control everything making jobless stoner Todd (Nick Frangione) a very odd choice of fiance. Seemingly the success story among them, Danny (Jonathan Leveck) is a Los Angeles band manager who’s just scored a major-network appearance for his main act. Unfortunately, they choose this moment to tell him he’s fired, and he’s being sued for embezzlement to boot. Danny decides to hightail it out of town, driving north to the annual family gathering he usually avoids like the plague. Once we meet matriarch Edie (Colette Keen), it’s clear why: She is Typhoid Mary, personality-wise, browbeating anyone within yelling distance or telecommunicative reach. Long-suffering husband Ronnie (George Killingsworth) has learned to tune her out as best he can, usually retreating to his garage workspace. Fanny and Annie, still desperate to please — an impossible task where Mom’s concerned — prepare for the dreaded Christmas dinner, while everyone looks forward to the prodigal son’s rare return. Brown and his very good cast nicely ratchet up the gallows-humor tension, which climaxes in a forced sing-along of some dreadful holiday tunes (penned by the director himself) just as Dad is discovering that Mom has found an inexcusable final frontier on which to destroy his self-worth; the consequent fadeout is of the lady-or-tiger stripe. Still, the more difficult characters here (all female) and resulting character dynamics are so consistently shrill that the pic feels a bit too one-dimensional and cruel to leave the small-tragedy aftertaste it could have. Assembly is modest but efficient.
A Filmsight Prods. presentation of a CB Films production. Produced by Morgan Schmidt-Feng. Executive producers, Chris Brown, Ray Brown, Judy Brown, Audrey Jackson, Jeff Baker. Directed, written, edited by Chris Brown.
Camera (color, HD), Chris Brown; music, Chris Brown; set decorators, Judy Brown, Audrey Jackson; sound, Ron Roumas; supervising sound editor, Andre Fenley; re-recording mixer, Tony Sereno. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Sept. 27, 2010. (In Mill Valley Film Festival -- U.S. Cinema.) Running time: 80 MIN.
Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwartz, Esther Mamet.