Cookie's Fortune [1999]

Dedicated fans of Robert Altman will want to check out this drowsy Southern comedy, which is shot through with the director's feel for location and his musical sense of storytelling. Non-Altman fanatics might want to tread more carefully. Cookie's Fortune begins beautifully, as handyman Willis (Charles S. Dutton) staggers home from a blues club in the small town of Holly Springs, Mississippi. In the wee hours of a warm night, he has an affectionate chat with elderly matriarch Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt (the grand Patricia Neal) and the gentle history of their friendship is sketched in a few brief exchanges. Soon enough, Cookie has checked out of this world to join her dear departed husband, prompting her nieces to make the suicide look like a murder---to protect the dubious family name, of course. They are the local drama diva (Glenn Close), a Scarlett O'Hara in her own mind, and her dreamy sister (Julianne Moore), who ain't quite right in the head. Will Willis be blamed for the murder? Will the inheritance go to the nieces? Will Liv Tyler and Chris O'Donnell find a place to express their lust? None of these questions is especially burning, and Altman doesn't seem terribly anxious about the answers. Instead, he aims for a particular kind of laid-back quirky southern comedy, unevenly filtered through his screen of sour irony. Like a jazzman blowing improv, some of this works and some of it doesn't. Speaking of music, the film boasts a nifty R&B soundscape devised by former Eurythmics man David Stewart, with a boost from blues belter Ruby Wilson. --Robert Horton

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