In a small Mississippi town lives a lonely old woman, Jewel Mae “Cookie” Orcutt (Patricia Neal). Her manor home is a shrine to her late husband, Buck, whom she desperately misses. She shares it with loyal caretaker Willis Richland (Charles S. Dutton), a caring, middle-aged, African-American man who loves catfish and Wild Turkey bourbon. The two are constantly trying to outdo each other. The mild Willis is Cookie’s only real social contact.
Cookie enjoys the antics of her outlaw niece, Emma Duvall (Liv Tyler). Emma holds the town’s record of two hundred and thirty-four parking tickets and works cleaning catfish. This does nothing to scare off Jason (Chris O’Donnell), a local rookie cop. Lyle Lovett is Manny, the catfish supplier.
Cookie’s other nieces, sister duo Camille Dixon (Glen Close) and Cora Duvall (Julianne Moore), don’t speak with their reclusive aunt. Camille is a social butterfly, a great contrast to the reclusive Cookie and to Emma’s unsuccessful lifestyle. Emma’s mother, Cora, acts as Camille’s shadow. The sisters share a tiny house across town.
On the day before Easter, Camille approaches Cookie’s house poised to demand a fruit bowl that belonged to her mother. She finds Cookie dead from suicide. Cora’s screams interrupt Camille’s shock. Not wanting the town to think her family imperfect, Camille stages a false murder and Cora obediently assists her. When Willis is arrested for Cookie’s murder, Camille’s deception turns on her as the police unravel dark family secrets.
Cookie’s Fortune moves at the pace of a Southerner sipping on a glass of lemonade. Director Robert Altman develops the characters immediately, but the plot drags. Even after Camille’s deception is uncovered, the movie lacks momentum.
Close shines while dramatically staging the murder. Camille’s obsession with a ‘normal’ family image reveals that she herself is unstable. Tyler couldn’t master a Southern accent. The deadbeat role didn’t suit her; the meticulous costuming made her look like an outlaw. Moore’s Cora was unbelievably boring to watch.
The unveiled secrets at the end come as an unexpected, but satisfying, surprise.
+ kim hutchison