Naming Number Two



Cyan Pictures

NEW YORK -- Experienced indie film viewers have learned to be wary of at least two types of movies: Sundance Audience Award winners and adaptations of theatrical works written and directed by the playwright. "Naming Number Two," which falls into both categories, only confirms such prejudices.

Emotionally contentious family gatherings are a frequent theatrical subject, and such is the case with New Zealand-based writer-director Toa Fraser's cinematic rendering of his play. The story centers on an elderly matriarch, Nanna Maria (Ruby Dee, the sole American in the cast), who one morning suddenly commands that the family throw a grand feast for her that very night. No outsiders will be allowed, nor even her own children, for whom she has only disdain. Only her beloved grandchildren will be in attendance, with one of to be selected as her "No. 2" and the inheritor of her not particularly grand estate. And, oh yes, she demands that a pig be roasted over an open fire.

Needless to say, a tizzy results among the snubbed children. Meanwhile, the grandchildren frantically make preparations for the festivities, with one of them bringing a live pig for slaughtering. The favorite grandchild, Tyson (Xavier Horan), would rather skip the event but changes his mind when Nanna inexplicably takes a shine to his beautiful Danish girlfriend (Tuva Novotny) and bends her own rule by inviting her.

As the evening progresses, the bitterness, bad feelings and rivalry among the group come to the fore, resulting in altercations both verbal and physical. Needless to say, it all gets sorted out by the time the film reaches its highly sentimental conclusion.

Static and forced, the talky proceedings manage to leave no cliched stone unturned. Not helping matters is the fact that most of the characters, particularly Dee's cranky and demanding octogenarian, are far from likable.