Mighty Fine is about an aspirational father who wants to provide for his family and becomes increasingly alarmed about his anger issues. It’s also about the man’s wife and daughters, but their roles seem almost perfunctory—as does just about everything in the movie that doesn’t have to do with patriarch Joe Fine’s (Chazz Palminteri) inability to control his behavior as his business dreams go south, literally.
Moving his family from Brooklyn to New Orleans in the mid ’70s, Fine settles his Holocaust-survivor wife, Stella (Andie MacDowell), and school-age daughters, Natalie (Jodelle Ferland) and Maddie (Rainey Qualley), into a posh NoLa mansion. For Joe, a self-made man who overcame an abusive father and a business environment that, the film suggests, was tinged with anti-Semitism, material success is the means by which he not only defines himself, but his relationship to his loved ones. When his family begins to rebel against the notion of having their love bought, or when his eldest daughter chafes under his overprotective yoke, or when he suffers a business setback, he gets angry—very angry.
Since all three of these things happen frequently throughout the film, the movie is mostly about Joe alternating between screwing himself up into a tightly wound coil of rage and miming increasingly violent outbursts, which the actor handles well enough. But though his younger daughter, Natalie, is ostensibly the main character (she narrates the movie as an adult looking back), this film seems oddly anemic when it deals with anyone but Joe.
Not that its conception of that personage is any more interesting than that of his family members. Mostly, the film treats the man as a ticking time bomb, asking the viewer to wait with inevitable expectancy for him to finally cross the line. There’s a measure of sympathy aroused for Joe (it’s clear that he really does love his family, however misguided his way of showing it), but mostly he just devolves into increasing monstrousness with predictable time-marking regularity.
Debbie Goodstein-Rosenfeld’s film is supposedly about the writer-director’s own childhood memories, but there’s little here that feels specific to an individual’s unique experience. The movie has its share of period detail, and its characters are all given their differing attitudes and proclivities, but one has to conclude from Mighty Fine that not everyone’s experiences are apt fodder for fictionalized treatment and/or that Goodstein lacks the imaginative means to transform her childhood into compelling cinema. The latter point seems all but certain; based on the rote nature of the film’s characters and situations, the former seems more than a little likely as well.