Saturday, 16 March 2013

Cookie's Fortune (1999)

Here we are, another ensemble drama by Robert Altman. That said, it can either be amazing, or terrible. This was Altman in the 1990s, a far better time than Altman in the 1980s... but still not Altman at his best. He was currently experiencing some health problems.

Robert Altman was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. He was told he didn't have too long to live. In retrospect, those most have been some pretty bad doctors, because Altman managed to survive for ten years. But Altman knew nothing about his future, whether he would survive or not. You'd think a man on his death bed was going to spend a lot of time trying to make his final swan song of a masterpiece  No, Altman made Kansas City and The Gingerbread Man. Although neither of those two films are absolutely terrible, neither of them measure up to Altman's full capacity.

Altman was in a worried state, he would never admit it... but he was. In 1996, the company that produced Kansas City found Roger Ebert and begged him to give Kansas City a good review in order to boost Altman's self esteem. Ebert did give it a good review, he gave it three stars, he also gave the same review to The Gingerbread Man. But in 1999, when Ebert saw Cookie's Fortune, he gave it a higher review, four stars, out of four stars. Cookie's Fortune was Altman trying to make every film he made count. With the exception of Dr. T & the Women, Altman never made a bad film again.

In 1999, at the premiere screening of Cookie's Fortune Altman was smoking marijuana. He made no attempt whatsoever to hide the fact, he was smoking it in the open. Everybody noticed, but nobody said anything. Altman had not admitted that he had cancer until long after.

Anne Rapp, the screenwriter of Cookie's Fortune was the husband of one of Altman's friends. Anne Rapp and Altman had worked on a miniseries called Gun before in the past. And so, Rapp and Altman got together to work on Cookie's Fortune. One year later, they re-joined to write another script, Dr. T & the Women. That was their final collaboration.

Patricia Neal stars in Cookie's Fortune. Her part is small, and she commits suicide in the beginning. Yet, this was Neal's first film in ten years. In the past she had starred in such films as Hud, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd. Neal was superb in all those roles... but she was young then. Although she is also quite good for what her role demands in Cookie's Fortune, she was very difficult to work with. It took Robert Altman two weeks to shoot the few scenes she had. This is something that reminds me of a character in Truffaut's Day For Night. In Day For Night, there is an older actress who struggles to fit in with the new realm of cinema.

Where does Cookie's Fortune stand today? Well, it's not Altman's most talked about films, or his best. But it has the reputation of a straight-out good film. It currently holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.8 on IMDb.

It is Easter weekend in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Grumpy and middle-aged theatre director, Camille Dixon lives with her shy sister, Cora. It is then that Cora's estranged daughter arrives in town. All is difficult enough for the Dixons... until Cora and Camille's elderly aunt, "Cookie", commits suicide. Camille convinces Cora that this will destroy the family name, so before anyone finds out about Cookie's death, they eat her suicide note and trash the house to make it look like a robbery.

However, soon the cops begin to suspect a man named Willis Richland of robbing the house and killing Cookie. Willis was Cookie's best friend, and every considers him to be innocent except for the cops. As Easter Sunday arrives, the truth comes out, and Camille and Cora learn that they're not the only ones who think they know everything.

Robert Altman is amazingly versatility. His film, 3 Women, was more about visuals and atmosphere than the character within it. However, Cookie's Fortune is all about character, and once more, Altman manages to get great actors to deliver great performances in it.

To start off with, Glenn Close is good as always, however, this may be a flaw in the writing, but I found it unrealistic how utterly bitter she was. Of the four members of the Dickson family who we know of, there is Camille who is a very angry woman, her sister, who is very shy, her aunt, who is very sociable, and a little crazy, and her niece, who is rather depressed. I can't quite believe that such a family would exist where everyone is completely different, but for the sake of the comedy, it works.

Julianne Moore is very quiet in Cookie's Fortune. She was as perfect as the role could allow her to be, but it didn't give quite enough room to show off what what Moore demonstrate in such films as Magnolia and The Hours.

Robert Altman didn't like having Liv Tyler in Cookie's Fortune. He thought she was too glamorous. However, (this may not sound like a compliment) but she managed to not seem glamorous at all. Liv Tyler did take on her character, in appearance and through acting. Although I did not like the character, or feel that she would really exist, but for what Tyler did, it was perfectly suitable for the kind of role she was playing.

Some of the humour in Cookie's Fortune was a little too juvenile for my liking. Much like Brewster McCloud, the humour revolves around that of the crazy. However, at least Cookie's Fortune does not get into jokes about bird feces like Brewster McCloud.

Although there are many who would without a doubt disagree with me, I feel Cookie's Fortune would have worked better should it be more raw and less PG-13 rated. While watching Cookie's Fortune, it seemed to me that Altman was either not wanting to or not allowed to show what he wanted to. Cookie's Fortune seems suppressed, like it wants to say something, but for some reason it can't. I'm not sure if going for the R rating would have changed anything, but it certainly wouldn't have felt so fluffy and sugar coated. Cookie's Fortune tries to be so sweet and kind, and yet it deals with suicide, death and false murder accusations. Many thought it was impressive how Altman could deal with such disturbing topics in such a light innocent manner. To me it felt as though he were trying to deny reality. Like he wanted to hide beneath a rock and shield himself from the coldness of the truth. Cookie's Fortune, to me, seemed like it was Robert Altman dreaming. Dreaming of a world where he could embrace fantasy. Perhaps a world where death had an innocent toll on people. Perhaps Altman would like to die like Cookie did.

Cookie's Fortune,
Directed by Robert Altman,
Starring: Glenn Close, Julianne Moore and Liv Tyler,
6/10 (C)


1. 3 Women
2. The Player
3. Brewster McCloud
4. Gosford Park
5. Cookie's Fortune
6. Fool For Love

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