Fanny (Jill Pixley) is a developmentally disabled and obsessive-compulsive women who lives in a group home and works in a candy factory (though the residents of the group home grow weary of her 6am recorder playing and the factory is closing down). Annie (Carlye Pollack) is an under-appreciated and high-strung dental assistant engaged to a stoner named Todd (Nick Frangione). Danny (Jonathan Leveck) is an entertainment manager who has just been laid-off for allegedly embezzling from a band he was representing. What do all Fanny, Annie and Danny have in common? They’re all the offspring of Edie (Colette Keen) and Ronnie (George Killingsworth), and will be returning home for one day of the year to “enjoy” Christmas dinner.
The holidays are always perfect fodder for dysfunctional family dramas, and filmmaker Chris Brown’s Fanny, Annie & Danny continues the cinematic tradition. In this case, the tone is less of a madcap family comedy everyone can relate to and more like a emotional bloodbath that you should hope you don’t relate to at all. Because this family is split between two types of people: the aggressive and overbearing power-holders and the (supposedly) loved ones they walk all over.
But even the split has its hierarchy, and matriarch Edie is easily the queen of this kingdom. Dominant, abrasive and (arguably) evil, Edie runs roughshod over everyone in her family, especially her husband Ronnie, whom she berates on a daily basis while generally disregarding his feelings. Daughter Annie, whether she planned to or not, obviously didn’t stray too far from the tree, as she dances a similar dance with her low-key, stoner fiancé Todd. Even Danny, who got the most distance between himself and his family and is seen as the shining example of success (even though that comes into question), while appearing to be the kindest on the outside, operates from a “Me First” space. Unfortunately for Fanny, she’s the outcast who draws the ire of all the strong personalities in the family.
Fanny, Annie & Danny is a rough film to sit through, not because it’s poorly done or anything like that, but because the story it is telling is so unbelievably sad. This group may call themselves a family, but their actions are such that you’re surprised they even still celebrate holidays together, let alone talk to each other. It’s a film full of villains and victims.
Particularly the treatment of Fanny over the course of the film is hard to watch, let alone fathom. The out-of-sight, out-of-mind, jettisoned-from-the-family child, she’s the one whose obsessive-compulsive disorder has gone from something to be cared for to something to be resented and abused (whenever she enters a bathroom to wash her hands, someone in the family freaks out about it). When she loses her job and subsequently needs someone to look out for her, the family bands together not to help but to fight over who she’s going to burden most. It’s sickening and, at the same time, probably pretty realistic too.
I mean, my family is not perfect by any means, and the way the family in this film treats each other is beyond my personal experience, but just because the resentments are so easily hurled around the air in this film doesn’t mean that’s the only way this situation can operate. It’s probably more commonplace for folks to feel burdened, feel resentful and just not speak up about it, or whisper it behind the scenes. Hopefully people do the right thing in the end, but maybe they don’t like it, and just don’t say it. And maybe for this family, that’s how it was for a very long time but it just eventually broke to the surface and they didn’t see the need to hold anything back any more. I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m not saying that I think it’s unique either.
Fanny, Annie & Danny is a dysfunctional family clusterfuck, but in a good way. Just because I left the film feeling horrible for or about the characters onscreen, it doesn’t mean this is a bad movie. Quite the opposite, it’s a really great movie, just not a feel-good movie. The acting in it is incredible, not a weak link in the cast. And while I may be focusing on the dark feelings the film created in me while watching, there is a string of humor throughout. It’s just subtle and matter-of-fact, and you’re almost afraid to chuckle because you just don’t feel up to it.
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