In this relaxed and amiable Southern gothic comedy of manners, director Robert Altman explores the tattered yet durable spirit of community in Holly Springs, Mississippi. When Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt (Patricia Neal) decides to commit suicide in order to be reunited with her deceased husband, she sets in motion a disturbing series of events in the small town. Her estranged niece Camille (Glenn Close), who is directing Oscar Wilde's play Salome at the Presbyterian Church, finds the body and, in order to avoid scandal, makes it look like a robbery. Her younger sister Cora (Julianne Moore) reluctantly goes along with this deception, which is designed to install them swiftly into Cookie's antebellum home.
The police arrest Willis Richland (Charles S. Dutton in a stand-out performance), Cookie's loyal caretaker who loves Wild Turkey and catfish enchiladas. Cora's rebellious daughter Emma (Liv Tyler) joins Willis in prison as an act of solidarity with him. In one of the film's most poignant communal moments, the two of them play scrabble inside the cell with a deputy (Ned Beatty) and a lawyer (Donald Moffat). While a forensics expert (Matt Malloy) and a zealous investigator (Courtney B. Vance) from a nearby town try to uncover the truth about Cookie's demise, Jason (Chris O'Donnell), another deputy, secretly makes mad and passionate love with Emma in a small room at the jailhouse.
The frolicsome screenplay by Anne Rapp convincingly reveals the tolerance for idiosyncrasy in this small southern community. It also shows how our lives extend beyond our skins in radical interdependence with those around us. A major surprise in Cookie's Fortune revolves around the unusual ties that link us to kith and kin. This fine film is a sheer delight!