The ingredients of an archetypal southern town (the blues, catfish, and scrabble), a deliciously chosen cast, and the creative skills of Robert Altman make for a wonderfully engaging film that adds to the accolades that have distinguished his outstanding career. Delectably combining farce, moral passion play, and social drama with a soupcon of mystery/suspense, Altman drives us to his grandly executed finale with a constantly inventive comedic theatricality. Generations of the Orcutt family have inhabited the sleepy Mississippi town of Holly Springs. Headed by the aging Jewel Mae (Pat Neal), and composed of her two nieces, the domineering Camille (Glenn Close) and the somewhat-mindless Cora (Julianne Moore), and Cora's rebellious daughter (Liv Tyler), only recently returned home, the family is a fairly dysfunctional lot. The nieces basically ignore their aunt, and the mother and daughter avoid speaking to each other. Jewel is watched over by her middle-aged black caretaker (Charles Dutton), but she misses her recently departed husband, Buck, and contemplates joining him in the hereafter. When Jewel finally decides to pull the trigger, Camille stumbles into the situation and plots a coverup that rapidly spins out of control. Close is near perfect as the singleminded southern dame who brooks no interference with her willful desires, whether she's directing the town's Easter play, Salome, or pushing her way through police tape. The police chief and deputies, out-of-town investigators, and a stately patrician lawyer are the final touches in an exuberant allegory that is simultaneously touching, contemporary, and delightfully cathartic.
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