Mrs. Winterbourne

on April 19, 1996 by Christine James
While "Mrs. Winterbourne" is said to be based on the novella "I Married A Dead Man," it's doubtful author Cornell Woolrich envisioned the bigscreen adaptation of his dark tale of deceit and blackmail to play like a "While You Were Sleeping" rehash. Further, the questionable injection of humor is administered by director Richard Benjamin, the irony being that his credits include the painfully unfunny "Milk Money," "The Money Pit" and "My Stepmother is an Alien." It would take a far defter comedic hand to successfully transform Woolrich's story from bleak and horrifying to warm and fuzzy.
       Ricki Lake, best known as the host of TV's "The Ricki Lake Show" and for her lead roles in John Waters' "Hairspray" and "Serial Mom," stars as Connie Doyle, a sweet-natured but naive and unrefined young woman whose only education has been from the school of hard knocks. Kicked out by her scumbag boyfriend (Loren Dean) when she tells him she's pregnant, Connie finds herself penniless and homeless as her baby comes nearer and nearer to term. While trying to board the subway to get to a charity shelter, Connie is pushed by a throng of commuters onto a train bound for Boston. About to be caught without a ticket, she is saved by a kind stranger named Hugh (Brendan Fraser) who tells the conductor Connie is his wife. He takes her back to his compartment where his real wife, Patricia (Susan Haskell), who is also an impending mother, is waiting. Patricia lets rain-soaked Connie borrow some of her clothes and even try on her inscribed wedding ring as the two bond over their mutual gestation-related anxieties and anticipations. Suddenly, the train lurches, hurling its passengers violently. Connie wakes up days later in a hospital, having given birth to a beautiful child--but she thinks she's been given the wrong infant when she sees the hospital ID tag reads "Baby Boy Winterbourne." She begins to ring for the nurse when she notices her own wristband says "Patricia Winterbourne." The real Patricia and her husband Hugh were both killed in the train accident (the tragedy of which is later briefly addressed but brushed off like a plot crimp), and Connie, thanks to her borrowed garments and ring, has been mistaken for the young bride.
   When Hugh's mother (Shirley MacLaine), who has never met Patricia, sends for Connie, believing her to be her son's widow, Connie at first protests, but, out of desperation to provide a home for her baby, finds herself entangled in the charade (which, at least, is a far more understandable scenario than the ridiculously unbelievable circumstances in the aforementioned "While You Were Sleeping"). Upon arriving at the Winterborne estate, Connie panics when she thinks she sees Hugh descending the staircase, but is then told it's Hugh's identical twin brother, Bill (also played by Brendan Fraser.) Bill is a cold and sardonic character who picks up on Connie's story inconsistencies immediately and notes that Hugh would not be attracted to someone so brash and rough-hewn. But he soon begins to warm to her saucy wit and effusive verve, and before you know it the two are in love. The conflict and comedy are supposed to derive from Connie's escalating entrenchment in her deception dilemma and the threat of exposure, but tension is non-existent due to a highly predictable script. Fraser is appealing as both the kind and generous Hugh and the newly enlivened Bill; MacLaine is touching as the loving and colorful matriarch; and Lake is well-cast as the Cinderella-like protagonist, though at some points, especially when scowling at some snickering socialites, she tends to revert to the overacting camp of her Waters performances. The script's main shortcomings involve falling back on formulas such as the ugly-duckling-to-beautiful-swan makeover scene, and caricatures meant to be endearing like Paco, the wacky tangoing loyal family butler (Miguel Sandoval). The most undermining fault, however, is failing to sufficiently establish a reason for Bill to fall for Connie. One brief stroll through downtown Boston, a few quips and a tango later, his bitter, caustic persona melts away and he's proposing marriage. Even more bizarre is his crisis of conscience at being in love with his brother's widow, when at that point it's been established he's discovered her real identity (unbeknownst to Connie). As their love is supposed to be the heart of the story, credibility is vital--but unfortunately lacking. Starring Ricki Lake, Shirley MacLaine and Brendan Fraser. Directed by Richard Benjamin. Written by Lisa-Marie Radano and Phoef Sutton. Produced by Dale Pollock. A TriStar release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief strong language. Running time: 103 min
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