Fanny, Annie & Danny

Fanny, Annie & Danny is one of those movies where everyone is either a nasty human being or a loser—often both at the same time. Centered on a Christmas get-together in which the eponymous siblings congregate at the Berkeley home of their verbally abusive mother and utterly passive father, Chris Brown's film attempts to mine family dysfunction for edgy laughs. But mostly the movie just gets off on how awful and/or pathetic its characters are, calling on the viewer to judge or pity rather than sympathize with its gallery of grotesques. For example, mentally challenged Fanny loses her job, gets kicked out of her group home, endures the put-downs of the rest of her family, and then her siblings plot to bilk her out of her hefty severance check. (Such nastiness, but, hey, that's humanity!) Brown often syncs his film's moral ugliness to less-than-appetizing shots of food, whether it's Annie cooking a stomach-churning casserole or the director cross-cutting between the family's holiday turkey and a garbage truck compacting trash. It's a small step from here to the film's ending, as abrupt as it is cynical, with a pessimism that feels entirely imposed from on high.

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