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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

Connie: Holy s**t! What's this? Paco: This is a Rolls-Royce. Connie: That's like the Cadillac of automobiles, huh? Paco: No, the Mercedes Benz is the Cadillac of automobiles. This is a Rolls-Royce.
- Ricki Lake, Miguel Sandoval

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 18, 2002

Stars: Shirley MacLaine, Ricki Lake, Brendan Fraser
Other Stars: Loren Dean, Miguel Sandoval
Director: Richard Benjamin

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, mature themes
Run Time: 01h: 45m: 56s
Release Date: February 12, 2002
UPC: 043396077423
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Poor Cornell Woolrich deserves better. He's a great crime writer who frequently doesn't get the recognition that goes to, say, Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain, but if you've read any of his stuff, you know that he's every bit as good. His finest hour onscreen was surely when Alfred Hitchcock amplified on one of his short stories and made it into Rear Window. Woolrich has been served less well in recent decades; his novel Waltz into Darkness was the basis for Original Sin, with Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, which, though it changed the time and place, captured much of the spirit of the novel. But Mrs. Winterbourne plays Woolrich for laughs, taking his taut novel I Married a Dead Man and shoehorning its plot into a comedy. (The story has been filmed a couple of times before, most notably in 1949 with Barbara Stanwyck, in No Man of Her Own.) The setup is a classic one. Connie Doyle (Ricki Lake), 18-year-old runaway, gets pregnant, and then her boyfriend Steve (Loren Dean) tells her to get lost. Connie stumbles onto a train headed for Boston, where she meets Patricia, as pregnant as she is, and Patricia's debonair husband, Hugh. Patricia and Hugh Winterbourne have been living overseas, and now Patricia is off to Boston to meet her husband's family for the first time; Hugh hasn't provided even as much of a picture of his lovely wife. Hugh goes off to fetch drinks for the mommys-to-be when, during some girlie talk, Connie, the sad, working class single pregnant lady, tries on Patricia's wedding ring. CRASH. At that very moment the train has a terrible accident, and Connie wakes up in a hospital, no longer pregnant. Where is she? What happened? She and her baby survived the train derailment, but Hugh, Patricia and their baby didn't; given that she was wearing Hugh's family ring and that Hugh's family never laid eyes on Hugh's wife, they mistake Connie for Patricia, and the baby for the first in the next generation of Winterbournes. Connie comes under the care of Hugh's mother, played by Shirley MacLaine, and the suspicious eye of Bill, Hugh's identical twin. (Both brothers are played by Brendan Fraser.) Something ain't right with this Patricia, Bill seems to know, but just what is it? It's a terrific premise, but there are a couple of major problems here, and the biggest one is Ricki Lake. She just doesn't have the acting skills to drive this whole movie; she's lacking in street cred early on when she stumbles around New York ("Dis ain't da subway!"), and she can't pull off the vulgarity with any sort of charm. At dinner with the Winterbournes and her baby, she says when a servant tries to take away her son: "He'll ball his head off if he doesn't have my tits right on hand." It's meant to be a joke, but it falls flat, so to speak, and you may find yourself wondering what the movie might have been like with a better lead. Marisa Tomei, maybe? The other major problem is the seriously unfunny script, which never really succeeds in either getting big laughs or converting the skeleton of Woolrich's plot into a comedy. Lake gets some pathetically obvious voice-overs ("If this was supposed to be my big destiny thing, I was expecting a little bit more") and character stuff spoken directly to the baby ("Oh, Cookie, no matter how hard you try, you could never screw up your life as bad as I've screwed up mine"), and while the story points come in the right place, they just don't really happen in any organic manner. Connie and Bill melt one another and fall in love, we are told, but it just ain't happening between Lake and Fraser; the chemistry between them and the changes in their characters simply don't appear onscreen. (Both Fraser and MacLaine give it their all, but they can't turn lead into gold.) The romance is peppered with bad lines like: "You could use some silly," and while we understand what the filmmakers are getting at, they just don't deliver the goods. Mrs. Winterbourne could use some silly itself. The whole enterprise is also brought down by arbitrary bits of business and inexplicable character traits—everyone is supposed to know, for instance, that the late Hugh and his mother used to sing On the Sunny Side of the Street together, and therefore we're forced to suffer through a rendition by MacLaine and Lake. The supporting cast fares no better; Miguel Sandoval is game as a gay Cuban butler, but his part seems like a pale imitation of Hank Azaria's in The Birdcage, and Loren Dean, who never seems quite to find the right role, is terribly underused as the father of Connie's baby.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The DVD offers the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio on one side, and a full-frame presentation on the other, for which the matting seems merely to have been lifted. Transfer is adequate, though the filmmakers haven't done an especially good job shooting Boston, generally a pretty photogenic city.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital soundtrack is a nice and warm one, though not especially distinguished. Dialogue is clear, and dynamics are generally reasonable, though there are exceptions, must notably the Lake-MacLaine duet, which is sonically all over the place.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Nothing on hand here besides chapter stops and captions in seven languages. The menus feature particularly unflattering photographs of the lead actors.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Mrs. Winterbourne is likely to leave you unsatisfied, as either noir or comedy. If it's Woolrich and the former you're after, check out Rear Window; if it's the latter, I'd recommend a more successful movie from the same director, Richard Benjamin: My Favorite Year.


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