Beauty and the deceased

by Joey Guerra

Daily Cougar Staff

Watching Mrs. Winterbourne, it wouldn't be at all surprising to hear the crowd break out into chants of, "go Ricki, go Ricki!" Indeed, as host of her own syndicated talk show, Lake has garnered quite a following.

So it seems only natural that Lake makes the transition to movies, but for those who have forgotten, her mug has been on the silver screen before, most notably in John Waters' sweet, nostalgic Hairspray.

So being somewhat of a veteran in front of the camera, Lake puts on all the charm for Mrs. Winterbourne, the latest romantic, case-of-mistaken-identity comedy, which, coincidentally, would make great talk-show fodder.

Lake portrays Connie Doyle, a young, naive woman who gets taken in by the seemingly sweet Steve (Loren Dean). Connie and Steve are content, until Connie gets pregnant, Steve gets cold and the story gets rolling.

Thrown out of her only home pregnant and penniless, Connie finds her way into a train station she mistakes for a subway depot. On the train, she meets the perfect couple, Hugh and Patricia Winterbroune (Brendan Fraser and Susan Haskell). Like Connie, Patricia is pregnant, making Connie wish she could have Mrs. Winter bourne's perfect life.

By a bizarre set of only-in-the-movies circumstances, Connie's wish becomes a tragic reality. She is met with open arms by Grace (Shirley MacLaine) and Bill Winte rbourne (Fraser, in a dual role). Grace is accepting; Bill is suspicious. Connie slowly ingratiates herself into the family, even earning the acceptance of Paco (Miguel Sandoval), the Winter bournes' butler.

What follows is a formulaic, but sweet set of events that go down like cotton candy, thanks to light direction by Richard Benjamin (Mermaids, Milk Money) and able performances by a strong cast.

Yes, it's strangely similar to last year's Sandra Bullock cutie, While You Were Sleeping (It's actually based on a book and was made into a Barbara Stanwyck film years ago), but Mrs. Winterbourne is a bit different. There's a broader comedy angle and a dark subplot, but don't worry; everything is perfectly sun-drenched by the film's end.

Also apparent is a genuine sweetness and sincerity that may leave you misty-eyed in a couple of spots. While this film isn't as poignant as the marvelous Muriel's Wedding (which it faintly resembles as well), there are a few tear-jerking moments. There's even Lake, looking very Muriel, in a beautiful white wedding gown.

Performance-wise, Lake is never less than charming and never more than good. She isn't as irrepressibly huggable as Bullock, but her work here is genuine. Fraser has a sincere wit about him, and despite a serious lack of judgment with last year's Airheads, he looks poised to join the ranks of romantic leading men like Bill Pullman.

MacLaine is marvelous. Her portrayal of Patricia's witty, sarcastic mother-in-law gives the film much of its humor. From hiding cigarettes to threatening to spank her son, MacLaine is a pleasure to watch.

Also refreshing is Sandoval as Paco, the Winterbournes' loyal butler. His performance is sincere, and the fact that his character happens to be gay is seen as a siple fact of life, not a reason for campy laughs.

Screenwriters Phoef Sutton and Lisa-Maria Radano could have gone the low route with Birdcage-level stereotypes, but they keep the character in synch with the rest of the film.

So maybe it isn't a bold, new concept, and maybe it is a bit predictable, but give Mrs. Winterbourne a chance. She may surprise you.

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