Just the facts (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database).
Director: Robert Altman. Writer: Anne Rapp. Tagline: Welcome to Holly Springs... home of murder, mayhem and catfish enchiladas. Plot Outline: A murder-mystery tale in a small town in Mississipi invovlving two sisters. Glenn Close: Camille Orcutt: Julianne Moore: Cora Duvall: Liv Tyler: Emma Duvall: Chris O'Donnell: Jason Brown: Charles Dutton: Willis Richland: Patricia Neal: Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt: Ned Beatty: Lester Boyle.
My friend Fran Strykowski warned me this film was a little slow. Wow! She was right about that. If you look up slow in an on-line dictionary, you'll find a clip of Cookie's Fortune. In the end, it was a satisfying little film of minor ambitions, competently achieved.
There was a time when we expected a lot from Robert Altman, whose best-known film is probably Nashville. But his last few films have been small and personal and episodic. They have plots, but the plot isn't really the point. There was his Los Angeles film, and his Paris fashion film, to cite two examples.
But what he had then and has now is the ability to draw from his actors PB (personal best performances). We see them in ways we never saw them before and are unlikely to see them again. I mean, where did Arte Johnson go after Nashville?
Patricia Neal, for example, in the title role as Cookie, gives this year's best old-lady performance to date. Watch her at least make a date with Oscar for best supporting actress. She might even take the little guy home.
You've seen Glenn Close do crazy before. You've seen Liv Tyler do sexy before. You've seen Chris O'Donnell do dumb before. You've seen Ned Beatty do everything. You've never seen them do it as well as they do here. And what an all-star cast! This film is almost worth watching just to see them acting together.
And as for Charles S. Dutton as Willis, the handyman, well, his performance will leave you simultaneously applauding his performance and gnashing your teeth over Hollywood's waste of black dramatic talent. Why hasn't this man been making two or three films a year since his Fox-TV series folded? Because with the exception of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, Hollywood has never been able to offer a black dramatic actor a sustained career. Our movies and our culture are the poorer for the abuse of Samuel L. Jackson (although he looks like he might be having a career after all), Forrest Whitaker, and all the other black actors who showed us some promise they were never given a chance to fulfill.
OK, end of sermon, back to the film for a quick finish. If you can stay awake and in the theater for the world's most agonizing exposition, you'll be rewarded with a fun and funny--albeit almost completely predictable--ending.
There are several implied sex scenes, but none on screen. No nudity--not even two people waking up in bed together. There is a suicide off-screen, with blood spattered on the walls and all over the sheets, but we never see the body.