Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Mrs. Winterbourne – An Unconventional Cinderella Story

Written by Cornell Woolrich, Phoef Sutton, and Lisa-Maria Radano
Directed by Richard Benjamin

Not every movie has to be the kind that dazzles its viewers. Sometimes it’s enough to have a sweet story that allows the viewer to escape from the real world for a while and root for the unlikely circumstances of the film’s heroine. Such is the case of Mrs. Winterbourne.

The film tells in a flashback the story of Connie (portrayed by Ricki Lake), who arrives in New York City to meet Steve (portrayed by Loren Dean), who becomes her boyfriend. Steve kicks her out when she becomes pregnant.

By mistake, she ends up on a train heading to New England rather than the subway. On the train, she encounters Hugh Winterbourne (portrayed by Brendan Fraser). Hugh and his pregnant wife, Patricia (portrayed by Susan Haskell), who are traveling to meet his mother, Grace (portrayed by Shirley MacLaine). Patricia has lived in Hong Kong her whole life and never met any of Hugh’s family, nor has she any of her own left alive.

There’s a train crash and Connie awakens in the hospital. She finds herself with a hospital bracelet declaring her to be Patricia Winterbourne. A few times she tries to explain who she is, but she gets shut down. Apparently, Hugh and Patricia were killed in the train wreck. Connie delivered a healthy baby boy after the crash.

Connie is brought home to the Winterbourne mansion in a Rolls Royce. She doesn’t know what to think. Still devastated over the death of her son, the older Mrs. Winterbourne takes to Connie’s baby, believing it to be her grandson. She also meets Hugh’s identical twin brother, Bill (also portrayed by Brendan Fraser). Bill is much more uptight and straight-laced than his brother.

As Connie is brought more and more into the family, Bill is at first suspicious. Soon, however, he begins to find himself drawn to her, despite knowing the truth of the situation.

Much of the humor comes from Connie trying to act as if she truly is the widowed Mrs. Winterbourne. She is a fish out of water in two ways. She doesn’t know the things about the Winterbourne family she would be expected to know having been Hugh’s wife. This is something she explains with the confusion of the crash and her injury affecting her mind. The joke is funny the first few times, but it does get old after a while.

The other part of the humor comes from the fish out of water angle of Connie being poor white trash and trying to pass as a society gal. At times she really seems to be sincerely trying to be a part of their world. The best times, though, are when she contrasts the world of the rich with her sweetness and goodness. Her morals are actually much better than many of those she is rubbing elbows with, who will say and do anything to make the right connections. This is despite the fact that everything she is doing is built on lies. All of this helps to get the audience to root for her.

For the most part, the casting is superb. Ricki Lake is terrific as Connie and goes a long way to carrying the film. She’s sweet without being overly so, which makes it easy to root for her. Even when we know she should be owning up to what’s going on, she’s easily forgiven as she never takes advantage of the situation. There’s a lot of hand-wringing that goes on over what the best course of action is for her child, but she also wants to avoid hurting the people she has come to know and love.

Brendan Fraser is good in the dual role. He changes directions with ease between the two characters. Part of the believability works because the two are never actually shown in a scene together. Hugh is already long gone by the time we first see Bill. The biggest problem Mrs. Winterbourne has is although the actors pull off Bill and Connie having some chemistry together, the story really doesn’t devote much time to their growing closer, making that aspect hard to believe. In general, their relationship felt rushed. I could understand Bill keeping Connie’s secret so as to not hurt his mother, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of their relationship being built during this time.

Shirley MacLaine does a terrific job as the loving mother-in-law who is overbearing but in a kind way. As the story evolves, it becomes apparent why she has such an affinity for Connie, although the two really don’t know it. Grace is not typical of those who surround her in society and she fits much better with her alleged daughter-in-law.

The downfall for me was the drama that was introduced. I figured all along that Steve would be back and it’s pretty predictable what he does. However, some of what happens involving him is just overplayed for the sake of adding drama and tension to the situation where Connie must finally own up to what’s going on. I understand why the story unfolded the way it did, I just didn’t really like it.

With tones similar in many ways to the themes in While You Were Sleeping, Mrs. Winterbourne is a sweet, funny film that’s easy to enjoy. It was cute with a lot of twists and turns that work pretty well. It’s not a film you’re going to come away from feeling deeply moved. If you’re looking for a light romantic comedy, this would be a good choice.