Fanny, Annie & Danny

It’s generally a good practice for a filmmaker not to cast their family and friends in a movie (it’s not even the wisest to hire them as crew members either).  SO what was Chris Brown thinking when he cast his wife, Jill Pixley, as Fanny in his new movie that was shown at The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival during opening weekend, “Fanny, Annie & Danny”?  Well, he did write the part for her and they are still married so production must have gone smoothly.  Happily, the movie came out pretty good too.

Fanny is a developmentally disabled adult living in a group home.  She has a sister, Annie (Carlye Pollack), who is engaged to Todd (Nick Frangione).  Annie is planning her dream wedding even if it is beyond her and Todd’s means.  Annie also has started to fear for her job security, she works as a dental assistant, when her boss wants to interview new girls to “help her out”.  Danny (Jonathan Leveck) is the brother to both who happens to be a crooked record producer.  They are the children of Ronnie (George Killingsworth), a Vietnam veteran and Edie (Colette Keen) a mother who makes Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford from “Mommy Dearest” look like an angel.  Together they put the completely F-ed up in dysfunctional family.  The family celebrates Christmas a week before the actual holiday and it is anything but merry in this household.

The movie is a hard character study.  While Fanny may be a disabled person she is the most “normal” one in the family.  In fact, a character like Todd, who is a pothead and may be looked down upon in our society being such, is one of the more likable characters in the movie.  The transparencies of all the characters can’t be missed with the possible exception of fanny whose diagnosed disability is never disclosed.

.The standout in this movie above all others is Keen’s portrayal of Edie.  This woman is one of the vilest mother figures to ever show up on the silver screen.  The character’s actions and words will make you just want to jump into the movie and slug her!  One of her biggest flaws is that she clearly resents BOTH her daughters, while coons over her son.  Why she is so miserable and wants others around her to be more so is not clear, but Brown let’s the audience make their own decisions in that regard, but it would not have been possible without Keen’s great performance (The director assured everyone that Colette is a sweetheart in real life).

Despite being such a downer of a movie (where is it written that all movies have to be happy?), the film is very technically sound.  There is great camera work throughout the film (Chris was also the cinematographer).  Some versions of films shot on HD can come out looking like it was shot with a bad video camera, but the colors here are crisp and Chris gets enough coverage to easily edit the piece (which is another job he took on).

The movie is not without some flaws.  You have to bring your suspension of disbelief into play. (SPOILER WARNING)  Fanny ends up getting kicked out of her group home and it’s indicated she has to move out right away instead of having a day or two to pack and find a new place.  Also, the choice of not having Fanny’s exact diagnosis revealed can be seen as a way to protect Jill from any criticism she may have endured if her exact disability was known.  Still, the movie does have one HELL of an ending the folks at FLIFF won’t soon forget.