In a film meant to examine family mental abuse, Mighty Fine is seriously lacking in the qualities necessary to produce any kind of dramatic impact, let alone empathy. Instead of insight or understanding into an unfortunate and all too common condition, the audience is left wondering why stars Andie MacDowell and Chazz Palminteri felt compelled to portray such average everyday folk suffering from nothing more than what appears to be a domestic rough patch and a case of living beyond ones means.
Set in the early nineteen seventies, Mighty Fine features Palminteri as Joe Fine, a Jewish Brooklyn businessman who moves his family to New Orleans in order to be closer to his manufacturing plant. However, Joe is the type of patriarch who doesn’t bother to tell his family anything until it happens. This includes buying a fancy house with all the trimmings. It’s hardly unusual for the time period that Joe makes the decisions and everyone is expected to fall in line. But the script and the filmmaker make a big deal about this being standard operating procedure for the Fine household. The all too serious voice over (provided by the adult voice of the youngest daughter) keeps implying that Joe’s behavior is based less on a macho attitude and more on some sort of disorder, one that’s highly volatile and potentially dangerous. At least that’s what we’re told.
Outwardly, Joe just seems to be a guy trying to keep up with the Joneses, thereby placing himself under a lot of stress, which naturally worsens when his business begins to fail. This is certainly not earth shattering, making the conflict between Joe and his family nothing unusual and lackluster at best. Heck, my own family experienced the very same thing and there was a lot more daily fallout involved. And even though the voice over routinely states that the tension created by the father is very bad, the action does not support this assertion (certainly noting like at my own house). If anything, the small family appears to be like any other going through tough times. So get over it, already!
MacDowell does do a decent job of portraying Joe’s meek, polish immigrant wife who continually tries to keep the peace, although the routine gets tiresome. MacDowell’s real life offspring, Rainey Qualley plays the eldest daughter who is nothing more than a typical bratty, teenager who thinks of nothing but how events affect her social life. She’s a beautiful and capable actress, but both the script and the director let her down by giving her nothing more than a barely two-dimensional character with which to work. Likewise, Jodelle Ferland is extremely likable as the youngest child, a shy tomboy who puts her thoughts into writing, ostensibly creating the voice over of the film. However, the climax for each of these women is, well, un-climatic.
Although Palminteri is given a couple of potentially powerful moments with Joe (both involving guns) they just don’t come off. So MacDowell’s moment of resolve is subsequently diluted, and comes off kind of silly with its overblown presentation. It’s a situation of too little too late, but accompanied by a lot of bells and whistles (literally). Qualley as the eldest daughter also has a parallel moment with a boyfriend that hits the nail way too precisely. And Ferland as the youngest daughter is given the painful duty of summing up the story through a poem she reads at an awards ceremony. For what it’s worth she does a good job, but it’s hardly worth anything.
What bugs me the most about Mighty Fine is the missed opportunity. Having experienced a similar upbringing I know what the filmmakers were going for, and that’s why it’s so disappointing that they didn’t even come close to satisfactorily representing that on screen. Maybe it’s the inexperience of a first time director, or the fault of a sub-par script. Either way, Mighty Fine serves as a mere stepping-stone in the resumes of all those involved.