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m Mrs. Winterbourne
Starring Ricki Lake, Shirley MacLaine,
Brendan Fraser, and Miguel Sandoval
Directed by Richard Benjamin

Mrs. Winterbourne is based on a novel called I Married a Dead Man, which was previously adapted to film. As usual, Cranky makes no comparisons with the source material.

Connie Doyle (Ricki Lake) is 18 years old and self-liberated from an oppressive father in Hoboken, NJ. Her mom died years before and, cherishing her advice, Connie sets out for the big city, New York. Within a day she is shacked up. Within a couple of weeks she is pregnant and out on the street. By her eighth month she is delusional with hunger, can't tell an Amtrak train from a NYC subway train, and finds herself wearing another woman's wedding ring, in the middle of a major train wreck. When she comes out of a coma, she has a new identity and a VERY wealthy family looking after her.

It's kind of While You Were Sleeping, only it isn't nearly as much fun. It's cheesy. It's NOT cute. It's rarely funny, and it is stridently, strenuously un-acted by Ricki Lake.

For those of you who have yelled at me for being too persnickety about continuity and facts, well, I'm going to do it again. There is a point I have to make:

Lake's character is so destitute that she must use an old newspaper to shield herself from a pouring rain. Who is so destitute that she has been booted out of the YMCA, and cannot feed herself. Who, when her ex tosses a quarter out of the window, to plunk at her feet, reaches down to pick it up --

And reveals a perfect $25 manicure. Maybe more. (That's why I talk to an audience afterwards, folks. I never would have caught it. The women did.)

Lake's character stumbles onto an Amtrak train in Grand Central Station, rather than the subway (let's ignore the fact that you need a token to get anywhere near a subway train in New York -- Connie ain't loaded in the brain department), and finds herself on the way to Boston.

Except for the fact that Amtrak trains to Boston don't depart from Grand Central. Haven't in close to ten years.

Lake's character is supposed to make this mistake because she is delirious and frightened. She is confused by the crowds in the Grand Central terminal. Director Richard Benjamin could have helped Lake out by swinging the camera around to try to give a visual impression of the delirium, but he didn't. I'm sorry, Ricki, but, as far as acting goes, you're a terrific talk show host.

Back to the story: Under the watchful eye of sickly mother-in-law Shirley MacLaine, Patricia Winterbourne is encouraged into a new relationship with her (dead) husband's identical twin brother . And the father of the baby waits in the wings as a blackmailer.

It would be terrifically easy to lay all the blame for this mistake of a movie on Lake's terrible performance, but blame can be shoveled fairly easily here. The film is badly paced.

Relationships do not form naturally. The viewer is told that emotions have blossomed when it is fairly visually obvious that they have not. MW is a fairly blatant example of why Syd Field made a fortune writing script-writing advice books. MW follows his pattern to the letter, disregarding natural emotional timing.

In short: If you don't care about Connie/Patricia, and you won't, why should you care about anything that happens to her? Blame Lake. If the piece doesn't play out naturally, why should you believe what you see on screen? Blame Benjamin. If the fact and continuity errors are so blatant, if the dialogue is so awkward and explanatory, how can you lose yourself in the illusion?

You can't. Blame the writers.

Which leaves us with the supporting cast. Shirley MacLaine makes a Herculean effort to render gold from a script akin to a particularly smelly substance one would scrape off one's shoe. Her performance is worth watching solely because she manages to pull a dozen or so good laughs out of a script that is exasperatingly, desperately trying to wring laughs out of unfunny situations. Miguel Sandoval as Paco, the chauffeur/butler/manservant (whatever), works a strong Hispanic stereotype character until half way through the movie, when he is suddenly revealed to be gay (Field calls this moment a "plot point"), and then, halfway through what's left, assumes the serious role of fatherly advisor (all together now, "plot point") before reverting back to a gay stereotype.

And I don't know what to make of Brendan Fraser's Bill (the identical twin) who DOES NOT REACT after a fairly passionate, sort of incestuous kiss with his sister-in-law. Well, he comes back for four or five more passionate kisses, so I guess that's a kind of reaction. Next day he proposes marriage. All this after one tango.

I should dance so good.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Mrs. Winterbourne, he would have paid . . .


That's a buck and half for MacLaine and a tip of the hat to Sandoval for making the most of a wretched situation. MW can't decide if it's cute, or comedic, or tragic, so it tries to be all three, and fails miserably.

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