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Mrs. Winterbourne

Posted by martinteller on December 15, 2013

Connie Doyle (Ricki Lake) is pregnant with the child of deadbeat scumbag Steve DeCunzo (Loren Dean).  Steve refuses to help the down-on-her-luck Connie with the baby, and she has little hope for a decent future for her and her child.  On a train, she meets and befriends Hugh Winterbourne (Brendan Fraser) and his new wife Patricia (Susan Haskell), who is almost about to give birth.  The train derails, killing Hugh and Patricia.  In the confusion, Connie is mistaken for the new Mrs. Winterbourne, and she and her newborn baby are taken into the care of Hugh’s mother Grace (Shirley MacLaine), twin brother Bill (also Fraser) and their servant Paco (Miguel Sandoval).  Connie’s attempts to confess her true identity are all thwarted by interruptions and misunderstandings, and eventually she starts to take comfort as an imposter in the lavish Winterbourne estate.  Complicating matters, Bill starts to fall for her.

Like the movie I reviewed just before this, Romy and Michele, this has a 5.9 score on IMDb.  In this case, I’m on the side of the voters.  The story is basically No Man of Her Own with Barbara Stanwyck, and while I quite like that movie, in this case it’s done in the tradition of a 30’s screwball comedy.  And I generally don’t like screwball comedies (with some notable exceptions, of course, including another Stanwyck vehicle, The Lady Eve).  It just drives me bonkers when a film hinges on a premise that could easily be cleared up if people would just listen to each other for one goddamn second.  It’s a comic conceit I have a really hard time getting past.  At first I was somewhat into the movie, but once I was asked to accept that no one would give Connie a chance to speak, it was a losing battle.

I might have had an easier time with it if the leads had been more appealing.  Lake is nice and her performance is just fine, but here she has little of the exuberant charm that makes her irresistible in Hairspray.  And Fraser is… well, he’s Brendan Fraser.  He’s just there, a handsome and even mildly charismatic fella but one without much presence behind him.  What this movie needs more of is Shirley MacLaine.  She has the comic chops to make this kind of material work but the film (and director Richard Benjamin, who I rather enjoy as an actor but his directing career is pretty damn lackluster after My Favorite Year) fails to make the most of her.  In fact, the film needs more comedy in general.  If you’re going to give me a ridiculous premise, then go all out and make the whole thing ridiculous.  Don’t try to squeeze some generic drama and romance in there.  There weren’t enough laughs for me… but maybe I just don’t appreciate this brand of humor.

There were moments I enjoyed (particularly those with MacLaine), and I do think it may appeal very well to fans of classic screwball.  The way Romy and Michele somehow works for me despite its flaws, this movie somehow doesn’t despite its assets.  It’s just not my cup of tea.  The premise — and the lack of characters/actors I really care about — got too much in the way.  Rating: Poor (53)


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