“All happy families are alike,” we are told, and “every unhappy family is u happy in its own way.” But it’s amazing how closely a lot of them rhyme. I’m sure that to whatever extent Mighty Fine draws on the actual childhood experiences of writer/director Debbie Goodstein it is a deeply personal and meaningful story. To anyone not already interested in her own particular life, however, it’s just another sob story with its own unique details laid down over a drab, uninteresting skeleton.
It’s the ’60s and the Fines are moving from Brooklyn to New Orleans. Joe Fine (Chazz Palminteri) grew up in the borough from lowly roots to run a moderately successful clothing business. He served in Europe in the war, where his unit rescued a family hiding out “like a real-life Anne Frank”; being the single Jewish guy in the group, he married the young Stella (Andie MacDowell). They moved back to Brooklyn, and soon came Maddie (Rainey Qualley) and Natalie (Jodelle Ferland).
And now, in order to take advantage of some possible tax breaks, Joe is moving his family and his company to New Orleans, where they will be the first Jews to live there — a blatant falsehood, even in the ’60s, but after a while you get the feeling that mere facts are not foremost on Goodstein’s list of considerations. True, the Crescent City and its environs may have had its anti-Semitic side, but overstating the case — especially when it doesn’t play a huge part in what follows — just feels sloppy.
This can’t just be explained away as an outsider’s sense of the city and it’s history, though. The story is supposedly drawn from Goodstein’s own experiences as a child, and it’s accompanied by some really clunky narration from an adult Natalie (Janeane Garofalo) as she remembers growing up around her father and his mercurial temper.
There’s very little of any substance here. Palminteri is effective as Joe, but it feels pretty much like every other angry wise-guy or wise-guy-adjacent role he’s played. MacDowell is a disappointment, playing an absolute stereotype of a wife dealing with an emotionally abusive husband straight off of Lifetime. The single point of color in her performance is the truly bizarre accent she affects.
Maybe this really was meant as a Lifetime movie, and it somehow stumbled onto a bigger screen. It certainly presents the same sort of neatly-packaged, familiar narrative, already cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy consumption. Remember that even if the box is stamped “healthy” and printed in a cursive typeface, it’s still a TV dinner inside.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.