Title: Mighty Fine
Director: Debbie Goodstein
Starring: Chazz Palminteri, Andie MacDowell, Rainey Qualley, Jodelle Ferland
A deadly dull melodrama of familial dysfunction and emotional abuse in the face of patriarchal anger management, writer-director Debbie Goodstein’s “Mighty Fine” leans heavily on autobiographical inspiration for dramatic heft and connection, a tactic that proves ill-advised. A somewhat drab and unimaginative telling further dents this offering of already rather limited psychological insights and pat conclusions and catharses.
Set in the 1970s, “Mighty Fine” centers around a so-surnamed husband and father, small businessman Joe (Chazz Palminteri), who uproots his family and moves them from Brooklyn to New Orleans. His wife Stella (Andie MacDowell) is a Holocaust survivor for whom Joe wants only the material best, so he overextends himself buying a big home and steady stream of extravagant gifts for Stella and their two daughters, Natalie (Jodelle Ferland) and Maddie (Rainey Qualley, MacDowell’s real-life daughter). Unfortunately, his apparel business suffers a downturn, and Joe turns to loan sharks to keep his lifestyle afloat. The stress of this leads to flashes and fits of anger that frequently leave his family scared and/or in tears, but Joe seems unable to curb his destructive behavior, even (and perhaps especially) as his eldest daughter grows more willing to confront him about it.
First-time narrative feature director Goodstein has a good instinct about the toll of parentalization and walking-on-eggshells management that such sideways bursts of adult behavior can take on children, noting that the family worked hard to “keep that monster in a cage.” Too often, though, she deploys terribly obvious voiceover (“My dad missed the whole show — where the hell was he?”) that neither advances the plot nor illuminates characters’ feelings in a manner that isn’t already evident. Goodstein tells rather than shows, consistently missing opportunities to dig deeper into the effects of Joe’s lashing out.
None of this falls on Palminteri, really, whose performance does a good job of highlighting some of the underlying fear and insecurity that informs Joe’s behavior. The rest of the casting, however, is somewhat problematic. Ferland is more or less fine, but egregiously underused; her character comes across as a delicate cipher, the “artistic child,” and it’s not something that Ferland is experienced enough to communicate in unspoken strokes. MacDowell and Qualley, meanwhile, are out of their element. The former’s ridiculous, stilted accent does her no favors, and Qualley, in her film debut, can only unconvincingly pantomime the white-hot flashes and swings of teenage emotion. Nothing about their reactions to Joe’s fits feels particularly nuanced or well sketched out, and the well worn grooves of dramatic engagement that the film follows renders “Mighty Fine” anything but.
Written by: Brent Simon