[Screen It]


(1999) (Glenn Close, Charles Dutton) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Moderate Heavy Minor Mild
Mild None None None Mild
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Minor Moderate Moderate Moderate

Comedy/Drama: Upon discovering the body of an older eccentric woman -- the victim of a gunshot wound to the head -- the colorfully eccentric inhabitants of a small town try to figure out what happened to her.
In the sleepy and intimately small Mississippi town of Holly Springs, Willis Richland (CHARLES DUTTON) is a middle-aged man with a penchant for Wild Turkey and catfish enchiladas who lives next door to Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt (PATRICIA NEAL), an older eccentric woman who lives by herself. A caring man, Willis always tries to help Cookie around the house, which includes cleaning some guns formerly owned by her now deceased husband, Buck, whom she terribly misses.

Cookie's niece, Camille Orcutt (GLENN CLOSE) is the town's version of Blanche Dubois, a half- crazed but stubbornly determined woman who's directing her own version of Oscar Wilde's play, "Salome." For it, she's cast many of the local townsfolk, including her somewhat dimwitted and always pliant sister, Cora Duvall (JULIANNE MOORE), a young and enthusiastic, but not always competent deputy, Jason Brown (CHRIS O'DONNELL), and the town's lone lawyer, Jack Palmer (DONALD MOFFAT)

Beyond that, the big news in Holly Springs is that Cora's estranged, adult daughter, Emma Duvall (LIV TYLER) has returned, much to the delight of Jason and Manny Hood (LYLE LOVETT) the local catfish supplier, both of whom have a thing for her. Willis is also happy to see Emma, and hopes that she might stay with Cookie and keep her company.

Before she can, however, Cookie, who longs for her dead husband, commits suicide. Camille is the first to find her, and not wanting anyone to think that someone in their family committed suicide, decides to fake a robbery-inspired murder scene, and instructs Cora to lie about what happened.

The local sherif's department, including good ol' boy Lester Boyle (NED BEATTY), responds, and due to fingerprints found at the scene, have no other recourse than to hesitantly believe that Willis is the guilty party. As a special investigator, Otis Tucker (COURTNEY B. VANCE), arrives at the scene, everyone in the town reacts to the news and tries to figure out if Willis really did it.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's highly unlikely.
For the depiction of a violent act, and for sensuality.
  • GLENN CLOSE plays a flamboyantly imperious, middle-aged woman who covers up a family suicide, thus putting a man at risk for being charged with murder.
  • JULIANNE MOORE plays her pliant and somewhat dimwitted sister.
  • LIV TYLER plays a young rebel with a penchant for racking up (and not paying) parking tickets who has several trysts with Jason.
  • CHRIS O'DONNELL plays that overeager but somewhat incompetent deputy who has sex with Emma at his place of work.
  • CHARLES DUTTON plays a friendly and caring man who tends to Cookie when not indulging in a bottle of Wild Turkey.
  • PATRICIA NEAL plays the older and eccentric matriarch whose longing for her dead husband motivates her to take her own life.
  • NED BEATTY plays the good ol' boy police officer who knows Willis couldn't be guilty because they're fishing buddies.
  • COURTNEY B. VANCE plays a visiting special investigator who tries to figure out if Willis killed Cookie and can't believe the town's eccentricity while doing so.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    In the world of movies, certain filmmakers have distinctive styles that easily allow moviegoers to identify their films. For instance, it's not difficult to pick out a Woody Allen picture, or tell if the latest summer blockbuster was produced by testosterone happy Jerry Bruckheimer.

    The same can't be said about director Robert Altman. From highly acclaimed and entertaining films such as "The Player," "M*A*S*H" and "Nashville," to others such as "Popeye" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" -- to name just a few out of the more than thirty he's helmed -- Altman excels at delivering varied and unique films that show no signs -- beyond their usual high quality and talented ensemble casts -- of being interrelated to one another or him.

    His latest release, the low-key, small town dramedy, "Cookie's Fortune," further illustrates that point. Feeling and appearing as different as "Popeye" is to "Short Cuts," Altman delivers an interesting, but not entirely compelling character driven picture. Easygoing and entertaining in its own laid-back fashion, the film might disappoint fans who like his more sharply satirical works, and will most likely zip off to video stores faster than you can say, "Y'all come back now, ya hear?"

    Something of an eclectic version of "The Andy Griffith Show" as filtered through "Twin Peaks" with a bit of "Blanche Dubois-ishness" thrown in for good measure, the film features uniquely drawn characters and a moderately intriguing premise.

    Unfortunately, it's plot -- courtesy of first time screenwriter Anne Rapp -- while perfectly capturing the proper mood and feel of small town eccentricity, ultimately leaves its characters -- and subsequently the audience -- high and dry with nowhere to go. For some audiences that might not be a big deal -- as they'll be lulled into an easygoing appreciation of the characters and the film's relaxed pace -- but for those more concerned with interesting or complex plots, this might turn into a bit of a frustrating disappointment.

    What's odd about the film is that it's being billed as a comedic murder mystery -- and we even received a notice not to give away its "whodunit" aspect. While that's normally the proper thing to do, the problem here is that there's no mystery present.

    Everyone who sees the film will know exactly what happens to the eccentric matriarch, and the push to turn this into a mystery is obviously more the efforts of the studio's marketing department than Altman.

    Although the omission of one key scene would have turned this picture into that type of film -- and in hindsight may have been the better route to take -- Altman and Rapp are apparently more concerned with how their characters will react to the pivotal event. For most of them, all of it's a mystery, while the audience -- who've been given superior position and know all of the important details -- is supposed to enjoy their subsequent shenanigans.

    While superior position can often be an effective cinematic tool, two problems exist with it here. For starters, if there's going to be a mystery of any sort, audiences like to be involved in it. Knowing the full truth ahead of time ruins the effect of trying to figure it out for ourselves and is somewhat analogous to knowing the mechanics of a magic trick but trying to find enjoyment out of watching those who don't. It can be entertaining for a while, but without any major developments, its cruise control approach eventually becomes somewhat boring.

    That's where the second problem arises. While the characters are richly drawn and act as if some grew up in Mayberry (where everybody knows everyone and prisoners stay in their cells not because they're locked in -- and they're not -- but because it's the proper thing to do), a film can't completely ride off those characterizations and this one is a prime example of that.

    Although some might not complain about spending a lazy hour or so with some fun characters, that doesn't exactly make the best use of thousands of feet of film. To make such matters worse, the film can't figure out when to end and goes on through several scenes that could have been left out. When it finally does conclude, it does so in the middle of a scene just when the audience is trying to figure where it's next headed.

    Fortunately -- and as is the case with many of Altman's other films -- a wide variety of interesting characters are present throughout the film and at least keep things entertaining for much of its duration. While no one character or performance hogs the spotlight, several roles and the thespians who inhabit them are worth particularly noting.

    Glenn Close ("Fatal Attraction," "101 Dalmatians") -- no stranger to playing the over-the-top villainess -- is quite good as the imperious theatrical director, although at times one thinks she's on the verge of perhaps a bit too much overacting.

    Former big screen star and Oscar winner Patricia Neal ("Hud," "The Subject Was Roses") is particularly compelling and effective as the lonely eccentric, but as is evident by the plot description, makes an unfortunate but ultimately catalytic farewell early in the story.

    The best performance, however, comes from Charles Dutton ("Mimic," "Get on the Bus"). While a bit more development and screen time would have benefitted his performance and the film overall -- especially when his later incarceration further robs the film of some precious momentum -- Dutton delivers a superbly honed performance.

    Supporting roles are generally good although some obviously have more meat to them. While Chris O'Donnell ("Batman and Robin," "The Chamber") and Ned Beatty ("Deliverance," "Network") do their best to collectively play the Barney Fife bumbling deputy character, Liv Tyler ("Armageddon," "Stealing Beauty") does a decent job as the town's young rebel with a heart.

    Julianne Moore ("Boogie Nights," "The Lost World"), however, is pretty much wasted, as is Lyle Lovett ("The Opposite of Sex," "The Player") -- an Altman supporting character favorite -- who appears to have had most of his performance left on the cutting room floor.

    Much like "The Andy Griffith Show," this easygoing film has the requisite Southern feel and charm to sooth audiences (courtesy of cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita and David A. Stewart's Robert Johnson influenced, soulful blues score) and the rich characterizations may allow many to forgive the film's otherwise lackluster story. Not a great film, but certainly a pleasant one, this might not be one of Altman's better efforts, but is clearly one of his most accessible. For that and notwithstanding our plot-related objections, we give "Cookie's Fortune" a 6 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated comedy/drama. A character commits suicide via a gunshot to the head. While we don't see that action through to its conclusion, we do hear the shot and later see the blood stained bedding and some blood splatter on a wall. Two characters passionately make out and begin undressing while headed for another room to have sex in two scenes, but we don't see any explicit activity or nudity (as the encounters take place behind closed doors).

    Profanity is mild with 6 "s" words and an assortment of other words and phrases, while several characters drink liquor straight from the bottle. Some bad attitudes exist (especially between estranged family members), and particularly relate to one character who domineers others and whose actions of covering up a suicide nearly cause a man to be charged with murder.

    Beyond that, the remaining categories are relatively void of any major objectionable content. Although it's questionable how many kids will really want to see this film, you may want to take a closer look at the listed content should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for you or anyone else in your home.

  • We see Willis drinking shots in a bar, and he's then joined by the bartender/owner who also drinks. We then see Willis take a swig of whiskey from the bottle and he appears a bit inebriated.
  • That same night we see Willis walking down the street drinking from the bottle again.
  • A woman in a bar asks Willis if he wants a drink (at around 1:30 p.m.), but he tells her that he never drinks before Tom Brokaw.
  • After Emma gives Willis a lift, both take quick swigs of whiskey while seated in her truck.
  • Emma pours whiskey into some coffee for Willis.
  • People appear to have wine with their Easter meal at Cookie's house.
  • We see a wall that has some splattered blood on it, and later see the blood-soaked pillow and sheets from the suicide scene.
  • Camille accidently cuts her finger and we see that some blood has soaked through the cloth/material she has wrapped around it.
  • We see Manny, the local catfish supplier, break the head off one dead fish and in doing so see some of its entrails pulled out.
  • We see Willis steal a bottle of Wild Turkey from a bar (but later see him return it and also hear that this isn't an uncommon occurrence).
  • We see Manny trying to look into the van in which Emma "lives."
  • Emma, who gets many parking tickets for parking half way onto the curb, continually balls up her tickets and later admits to having accumulated a ton of them.
  • Not wanting anyone to know what happened, Camille eats the suicide note, instructs Cora to lie about what really happened, and then sets out to make the scene look like one of murder and not suicide. She's also demeaning to most everyone around her, including her somewhat dimwitted sister Cora who follows her every rule.
  • Although no suspenseful music accompanies the scene, a woman announces to her dead husband, "Here I come," puts a pillow over her head, and with the pistol in her hand, shoots herself in the head through the pillow (of the latter we only see the pillow's feathers floating through the room).
  • Handguns: Seen in a gun case and cleaned by Willis.
  • Handgun: Used by a person to commit suicide.
  • Phrases: "Laid" (sexual), "Bitch" (what Emma calls Camille), "You scared the holy piss out of me," "Suck," "Smart ass," "Nuts" (crazy), and "Geez."
  • A despondent character commits suicide.
  • Emma, who gets many parking tickets for parking half way onto the curb, continually balls up her tickets and later admits to having accumulated a ton of them.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 6 "s" words, 15 damns, 4 hells, 1 ass, and 4 uses of "Jesus," 3 of "G-damn," 2 of "My God" and 1 use of "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • Emma and Jason passionately make out in the police headquarters and frantically start to undress each other, but before we see anything else, they go into another room and close the door. Later, it sounds like Emma makes a suggestive comment to Jason wondering if he'd like some "seconds" (but due to our film abruptly stopping at this point and then resuming several seconds later, it's hard to be exactly sure).
  • Emma and Jason make out again in the same place (she feels his clothed butt) and they go off into another room after starting to remove each other's clothes again (but no nudity). Later, we see them leaving that room and finishing getting dressed.
  • When it's mentioned that Camille lost a lot of blood giving birth sometime in the past, Emma says that's impossible "because she never got laid."
  • As Emma bends over while wearing a tank-top, she shows a lot of cleavage.
  • A blues guitarist has a cigar in his mouth.
  • Cookie smokes a pipe and Camille later finds her tobacco in a serving bowl.
  • Cookie occasionally mentions that she misses her deceased husband, and she doesn't consider Camille or Cora as part of her family anymore.
  • Emma doesn't like or get along with either Cora -- her alleged mother -- or Camille.
  • Suicide (and the fact that Camille says that only crazy people commit it).
  • Why Camille wanted to cover up Cookie's suicide and the trouble that it subsequently brought her.
  • A woman announces to her dead husband, "Here I come," puts a pillow over her head, and with the pistol in her hand, shoots herself in the head through the pillow (of the latter we only see the pillow's feathers floating through the room).
  • Making the suicide scene look like that of a robbery inspired murder, Camille breaks the glass on a gun case and then a patio door.

  • Reviewed March 26, 1999 / Posted April 9, 1999

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [1917] [Bombshell] [Cats] [Little Women] [Spies In Disguise] [Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker] [Uncut Gems]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2020 Screen It, Inc.