Movie of the Month: Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

The post from which this was excerpted was originally published on Swampflix.com as part of that site’s “Movie of the Month” feature, in which one contributor makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before, and the staff discusses it afterwards. For March 2016, Erin made me, Brandon, and Britnee watch Mrs. Winterbourne (1996).

 

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I have a confession to make; I used to hate Ricki Lake. This was through no fault of her own and was based entirely on Baton Rouge NBC affiliate WVLA’s decision in 1997 to replace their daily 4 PM rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation with her syndicated talk show. In the many years since this great sin was committed, I’ve actually come to like Lake quite a bit, especially as I came to be aware of her partnerships with John Waters in my teenage years. She’s a perfectly serviceable actress, and she’s genuinely likable in this role, which could so easily have not been the case with a plot like this that revolves around deception (although Connie does admirably make every effort to correct misconceptions up to the point where revealing the truth could potentially literally kill a woman). Her weakest acting moments come in the scenes in which she is called upon to be histrionic and melodramatic that she comes across more like one of the sideshow people who populated her television stage. Lake can act; she just can’t overact, and she works best when she’s playing off of MacLaine, who brings a warmth to her performance that Lake can’t help but reflect back at her.

The weakest acting link, frankly, is Fraser, who comes across as a bit of a hack here. He seems to think that “playing rich” requires foppishness that borders on recreating stereotypical portrayals of gay men, up to and including the fey and effete way that he drops his napkin in his lap in affected shock at Connie’s initial appearance at the dinner table. There are many other ways to play a man of privilege who assumes that the new family member in his midst is an interloper, but Fraser read his part and went straight to “dandiest dandy that ever dandied,” and the later scenes that show him as a man with the potential to be more open doesn’t erase his performance in his introduction. In fact, when he first started falling for Connie, my assumption was that the film was leading into his public confession that he had latched onto her in an attempt to disprove his homosexual leanings. But no, it was just that Fraser made poor character choices when filming the earlier sequences in the film, and, admittedly, I came around on his character by the end, even if he is stiff and wooden when confronting Connie about having (he assumes) killed Steve.

The standout performance was MacLaine’s, and I especially liked how I expected the plot to unfold in the opposite direction that it does (i.e., that the rich patrician mother would be slow to warm to the new bride her son took an instant liking to, rather than the other way around). This twist helps the film feel less stale than it otherwise could. What do you think, Britnee? Did MacLaine help make this movie “work” for you, or no?

Read the full discussion on Swampflix.

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