Title: Cookie’s Fortune
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Anne Rapp
Music: David A. Stewart
Cinematography: Toyomichi Kurita
Charles S. Dutton
Courtney B. Vance
COOKIE’S FORTUNE is maestro Robert Altman’s lesser known work, an outlandish comedy about an intrigue deriving from Cookie (Neal)’s suicide in a small town in Mississippi. It is a sterling ensemble piece and Anne Rapp’s satirical script excels in mockery of the Presbyterian church and the provincial racism while Altman is mostly at ease with the straightforward storyline.
Cookie is an elderly widow, apparently quite wealthy, has built a close friendship with the handyman Willis (Dutton), but every family has some loose screws, her two nieces Camille (Close) and Cora (Moore), are church fanatics, barely take care of her, the only person she cares in the family is Emma (Tyler), Cora’s rebellious daughter. Everything turns havoc when Camille is the first one discovers the scene, since “suicide is disgrace” for her, she destroys Cookie’s suicide note and makes it look like a break-in and murder scene, with Cora as the witness. The interesting part is the sibling relationship, Camille principally dominates Cora’s life, she is currently preparing a revamped play of Oscar Wilde’s SALOME for the church and let her half-witted sister as the lead. So Camille has to brainwash Cora on the spot to dragoon her into believing what a sin Cookie has done and they should conform to the same testimony.
So the death is investigated as a murder case, and needless to say Willis becomes the soft target for suspicion as a rich widow’s black handyman who doesn’t have a manifest alibi and whose fingerprints are all over the “murder weapon”. But Willis has the unconditional aid from Emma and most of townsfolk who know the relationship Cookie and Willis. Clearly, Camille is in no mood for clarifying Wilis’ suspicion, as she has already hogged the house of a “crime scene” as her own property, until Cookie’s will (which is fortunately oblivious to her) comes into light, an unknown family secret is revealed and a blood-type analysis diverts the suspicion towards Camille. Then arrives the most satisfying part when Camille’s fate is totally at the hands of Cora’s testimony, Julianne Moore again proves her superlative dexterity by enforcing a genuine ambiguousness of Cora’s “revenge” highlighted by her inscrutable delivery, it consummates such a rewarding viewing experience between Moore’s passive submission and Close’s OTT aggression.
This film is also Patricia Neal’s major big screen appearance in her later years, nostalgia strikes, Cookie is a woman who has blissfully fulfilled her mission in life and has no regret in joining her late husband in the paradise, Neal nabs a doddering front of senility, and furthermore, camouflages her unexpected decision with a cordial rapport between her and Willis. Dutton outstandingly offers Willis a spontaneously carefree nature while Liv Tyler’s Emma is a too-good-to-be-true exemplar of a younger generation. The only incongruity rises from O’Donnell’s rookie officer Jason, who is a total non-starter apart from being Emma’s love interest and smooching on each other every time their eyes click.
To all appearances, COOKIE’S FORTUNE is Altman in his most laid-back fashion, planted in the southern soil, lyrically jazzy and beguilingly hilarious, it is also a showcase for his main players (Moore and Neal are my pick, with Dutton and Close closely behind), however beneath the surface, it sharply encapsulates the vexing status quo presided by narrow-minded prejudice and vacuous brainwashing under the name of religion. Align with my personal taste, the film is my guilty pleasure from a revered filmmaker, and is entitled to appeal to a wider-ranging movie devotees.