Dreading being home for the holidays this year? Then cozy up to "Fanny, Annie & Danny," out now on DVD.
You'll feel so much better about your own family dynamics you'll ship a special gift to your sketchiest uncle.
Writer/director Chris Brown isn't solely interested in giving us a barrage of family dysfunction. Oh, it's there, all right, captured with an intensity that's almost exhausting. But Brown is tackling a more complex narrative that starts with family in-fighting but encompasses disappointment, loss and fear.
Jill Pixley is Fanny, a grown woman with a limited mental capacity who loses the only job she ever had. Her family members are less than thrilled with her bad news, but collectively the group has its own problems.
Danny (Jonathan Leveck) is a small time thief with delusions of grandeur, while Annie (Carlye Pollack) is engaged to a child-like pothead (Nick Frangione).
And then there's Edie (Colette Keen), the mother who wants the family's Christmas reunion to go off without a hitch. Good luck. Edie is an emotional wrecking ball, pummeling her husband (George Killingsworth) into submission on a daily basis.
Naturally, Christmas isn't the joyful holiday seen in most films, but it's how the cast and Brown's cagey direction reveals this disaster one angry retort at a time that makes the film so fascinating.
"Can we not make the day the 'Fanny Show,'" Annie cries at one point.
Brown's script is caustic and wise, the overlapping dialogue echoing the way most families communicate. It feels like you're watching a real clan in action, from the frenzy over posing for pictures to the individual bonds felt between them.
Danny may be a con artist, but the way he reaches out to Fanny is tender and true.
Keen's Edie is a force of nature, the kind weathermen warn us about. She's the villain here, but as in all outstanding performances there's something magnetic about her commitment to inflicting pain.
Audiences who flinch at such family histrionics may avoid "Fanny, Annie & Danny," but everyone else will welcome this clan into their home for the holidays.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies