Here at The Film Cult I often review movies that happen to be personal favorites but for some artistic or technical reasons they aren’t actually very good. Cookie’s Fortune was not a financial success, making just shy of one percent profit, and ask most people if they’ve seen it, they’ll probably reply in the negative. And yet, it’s a perfect film. I recently reviewed Elizabethtown, another film about family in the south, and while I love that movie, it has a lot wrong with it. No such wrongs exist in Cookie’s Fortune.
The plot revolves around the death of Cookie, a family matriarch who, in the late twilight of her life, is beginning to forget things and spends most of her time thinking about her passed-on husband. She lives in a tiny town with quirky family members circling her all the time. Her trusty comrade is Willis, who ends up being the wrongly accused suspect of his dear friend’s death.
Cookie’s Fortune takes its time. The filmmakers introduce the slow pace of the Mississippi lifestyle gradually, carefully, ensuring that by the time the action starts you’re fully steeped in the culture: Beautiful women sing the blues. The local sheriffs fish together. The children play in the street and trains slither through heavy heat. Wide shots of the river or aerial shots of the town’s single traffic light linger just enough for you to relax, for your shoulders to drop.
The action itself is gradual with cautiously revealed characters and relationships. If the actors weren’t so talented, this gradual development might come off as tedious, but with Charles S. Dutton and Glen Close leading the pack, there’s no fear in boredom.
The light touch and comedic tone that warms the entire film plays as perfect counter balance to the gruesome aspects of the film’s central crime, the death of Cookie. The locals involved in the death are each quirkier than the rest, with Julianne Moore providing the most quirk in one of her most underrated roles. Her graduation to confident self-respect by the end of the film is one of the many delights the film has to offer.
The ensemble cast, cobbled together by director Robert Altman, works so wonderfully together that you forget Liv Tyler is Stephen Tyler’s daughter or that Lyle Lovett used to be married to Julia Roberts. They in habit their characters and deliver their lines with one hundred percent commitment, making the absurdity of some of the gags feel like high art.
From the moment of Cookie’s death, the audience knows who the killer is, and watching this cuckoo salad of suspects and family members try to figure out the mystery is a Shakespearean comedy of errors. You have the police, then the family, and then of course the other townspeople who just want to make sure everything will be sorted out by the Easter pageant. The plot in Cookie’s Fortune is a loose fitting garment perfect for that late spring heat. Like the rest of the film, it takes its time until the last moment when it all comes together and everything makes sense, sort of. The true killer is never found, but of course, what does happen is so much more delicious. Almost as delicious as catfish enchiladas.
Cookie’s Fortune didn’t change anyone’s lives. It didn’t stop the presses nor win any awards. It’s a movie about family’s and pride, towns and their people. What a family doesn’t need is a scandal, but what you need is to see this film.