Cookie’s Fortune - * * *

Cookie's Fortune

Director Robert Altman’s latest film, Cookie’s Fortune, is an easygoing portrait of a small Southern town and its eccentric inhabitants. The film doesn’t have a lot to say, and it takes its time in doing it…but it’s a pleasant and relaxing duration.

The main plot of Cookie’s Fortune involves an elderly widow named Cookie Orcutt (Patricia Neal). She has three surviving relatives in the small town of Holy Springs, Mississippi. There are her two neices, the haughty Camille (Glenn Close), and the simpleminded Cora (Julianne Moore). And then there’s Cora’s flighty daughter, Emma (Liv Tyler), who’s just recently returned to Holy Springs.

But the person who loves Cookie the best would have to be her friend (and employee) Willis (Charles S. Dutton). Taken in by Cookie’s late husband, Willis now takes care of the elderly Cookie, running errands and fixing his famous catfish enchiladas.

The small town has its share of eccentric characters, including Deputy Jason Brown (Chris O’Donnell), who is smitten with Emma. His rival for her affection is Manny Hood (Lyle Lovett), the town’s primary source of catfish. And then there’s the scrabble-playing town lawyer (Donald Moffat), and the fishing-obsessed sheriff, Lester Boyle (Ned Beatty).

Altman is a master of the layered storyline, and Cookie’s Fortune is no exception. He weaves together all of these characters and then some, with no one ever seeming to get the short end of the stick. Altman juggles the multiple subplots with such ease and finesse that it is never disruptive or confusing.

The thing to watch Cookie’s Fortune for is the performance of Charles S. Dutton. Willis is the heart of this movie, and Charles Dutton the role perfectly.

Glenn Close is the closest this film has to a villain. However, her character is not really evil, just a control freak. But that doesn’t stop Close from giving a shrill performance just two steps removed from Cruella DeVille.

Still, you can’t let one bad catfish enchilada spoil the whole batch. And, in Cookie’s Fortune, there’s plenty to go around. It’s a change of pace from your average film, but the result is mighty tasty.

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