A shaggy dog tale about an eccentric Southern family whose skeletons come tumbling -- slowly -- out of the closet after elderly Jewel Mae "Cookie" Orcutt (Patricia Neal) commits suicide. Robert Altman returns to the site of his atypical
GINGERBRED MAN in this amiable but rather trying bit of fluff, whose tone veers disconcertingly between light comedy and high gothic melodrama. A pipe-smoking widow whose indifference to matters of propriety and social standing are a perpetual trial to her pretentious niece Camille (Glenn Close),
Cookie's closest companion is Willis (Charles Dutton), a sweet-natured drunk who helps out around the house. Her favorite relative is wayward grand-niece Emma (Liv Tyler), estranged daughter of Camille's beautiful but none-too-bright sister Cora (Julianne Moore). The action begins just before
Easter: Emma has just blown back into town, and Camille is staging an elaborate, bowdlerized version of Oscar Wilde's Salomé at the local church, with the clueless Cora in the lead. It's Camille who discovers Cookie's body, and horrified at the disgrace she imagines a suicide will bring to
the family, destroys the suicide note and attempts to make it look as though Cookie was killed by a burglar. Suspicion instead falls on Willis (it's one of the script's nagging imperfections that it's hard to spin frivolous laughs from the dilemma of a black man in a Southern jail, accused of
having murdered a white woman) and every kook in town is soon involved in the bumbling investigation. Despite some lovely performances (though, sad to say, Patricia Neal's isn't one of them) and charming moments, this meandering ensemble piece and its Tennessee Williams-ish finale is oddly out of
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