Review of Mighty Fine

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A man named Joe Fine moves his family from Brooklyn to New Orleans, where his dreams and extravagance far exceed his means.
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Movie Review: "Mighty Fine" --

Rating: R (language, brief nudity)
Length: 80 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 2012
Directed by: Debbie Goodstein
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

"Mighty Fine" is based on the real experiences of writer and director Debbie Goodstein, though there are some fictional parts to the movie. For example, she says that the character of Joe Fine (Chazz Palminteri) is based on not only her father but also the fathers of some of her friends. No matter how many people Goodstein based the character on, they must have all had rage issues, as anger is a key theme throughout the film.

Joe has bad impulse control issues, though he isn't constantly mad. In fact, he can be an absolute sweetheart at times to his wife, Stella (Andie MacDowell), who is a holocaust survivor. Together, they have two daughters, Natalie (Jodelle Ferland) and Maddie (Rainey Qualley, MacDowell's real-life daughter). The story is told from the perspective of a teenaged Natalie, who has just started high school comparedto older sister Maddie, who is a senior when the story begins.

The family garment manufacturing business is not doing so well, and Joe has to find a way to save it. He shows very poor business acumen, but his larger-than-life personality somehow helps him stay afloat for a long time. When he can no longer rely on personality, his business partner suggests that he borrow money from the mob to help improve things. Though most rational people would see that this is a very bad idea, Joe Fine is not your normal rational man. He borrows the money and decides to relocate the family from Brooklyn to New Orleans to be closer to the plant that actually manufactures the clothing for his business.

Maddie is none too happy about the move, since it will tear her away from her high school friends. The thought of having to make new friends in her senior year infuriates the rebellious teen, which makes her want to be even more rebellious. On the other hand, Natalie and Stella are both excited about the change, hoping it will placate the anger that is always just beneath Joe's surface.

Joe likes to lead an extravagant life and decides to buy a large plantation house to settle into in Louisiana. The house is way more expensive than he can afford considering that his business is on the brink of bankruptcy. Instead of getting a smaller house or cutting back, he compounds the money issue by lavishing the ladies in his life with expensive gifts, including a new car for Maddie on her 18th birthday.

Though the scene where Maddie takes her family out for a spin in her new car should be a triumphant one, it turns into a nightmare. Joe criticizes her driving to the point that she gets out of the car, calls him an expletive no child should ever say to a parent, and proceeds to walk home. This enrages Joe, who then gets behind the wheel and attempts to mow his own daughter down with her birthday present.

It is scenes like this that can really make the audience uncomfortable. How Maddie, or even Stella and Natalie, could stay with him after an attempted murder is inconceivable to most. Unfortunately, the movie does nothing to address this. In fact, the script by Goodstein leaves a few other plot points dangling, including some business ones. The viewers never do get to find out what happened to Joe since he clearly could not pay back the loan sharks who gave him money back in Brooklyn.

Despite the dropped plot points, the story is still interesting, especially for anyone who has ever had a family member with anger management issues. Joe clearly needs therapy and perhaps medication as well. The year is 1974, and subjects such as psychiatry and mental health were still fairly taboo at the time. When looked at from this perspective, it is easy to see why Joe never thought to get help for his obvious issues.

Movie fans are probably so used to seeing Palminteri play mobsters that it is strange to see him play someone who borrows from the mob instead. As the angry patriarch of the family, he gets to chew up scenery with impunity. He towers over MacDowell, who sometimes struggles to keep her accent sounding authentic. Despite this shortcoming, her quiet performance as Stella helps bring calm to the Joe Fine storm. This movie doesn't break any new ground but it does paint a nice portrait of a family in crisis on the inside who seem perfectly normal to the outside world.