So, if you've looked at my Twittering, you know that I've surrendered at last to the overwhelming lure of a new 40 inch flatscreen TV. With HD and DVR. With three separate remotes and no clue how to do anything. And after marveling at the sheer amount of human genius devoted to allowing me to count the number of sequins on Vanna's dress, I faced the inevitable bounceback: 100 HD channels of nothing to watch.
So I dial up the old On Demand and what is there? Very little for which I have any demand. But at last I settle on Mrs. Winterbourne (1996, Richard Benjamin), which I remember as one of those cheesily enjoyable movies that provide an agreeable way to kill 2 hours without danger of exercising any brain cells. But the movie was neither as fun nor as pleasantly mindless as I thought.
I've never read the original Cornell Woolrich novel I Married a Dead Man (note to self: put on BookMooch wishlist), but I have seen the first film version No Man of Her Own, and I think it's safe to say that Mrs. Winterbourne has lost something in translation. Not only have the screenwriters half-heartedly turned it from a taut noir thiller into a big-misunderstanding-wacky-hijinx romantic comedy, but they have gone out of their way to make Connie unbelievably young and innocent, when it really would have served the plot better to make her a little more rough around the edges, a little more in need of the redemption that the Winterbourne family offers. And look, I don't hold it against Ricki Lake that she's no Barbara Stanwyck. I mean, who is? But plenty of actresses could have done a creditable job in the part -- just look at Sandra Bullock in the basically-not-dissimilar While You Were Sleeping. Ricki's either flat or over the top -- she just drags the film down, making her very good co-stars Shirley MacLaine, Brendan Fraser, Miguel Sandoval, and Loren Dean work all the harder for very little reward.
But none of that is what I want to talk about. No, I want to talk about Ricki Lake's clothes.
They are tragic. They are heinous. And not just in a this-is-the-'80s-what-can-you-expect kind of way, either. (I was surprised to learn this movie was made in the '90s. It just has that '80s feel about it.) No matter what the decade, these clothes are epically bad.
It doesn't make any difference what part of the movie we're talking about, either -- whether she's a plucky teenager leaving home; homeless and pregnant in New York; wearing the expensive clothes of the rich girl she's replaced; or spending the Winterbourne largesse on a few new outfits -- Ricki's wardrobe is uniformly floppy, droopy, too long, too dark or too pastel, and intended to cover every inch of skin. (At least when she flees Jersey, her skirts only reach her knee, but she wears black opaque tights to make up for it.)
The kicker is when some icy WASP girls make fun of Connie for her big Jersey hair (not that big) and loud makeup (not that loud, although: cool it with the purple eyeshadow). They don't say a word about her dress, although it could use a few: it's a long, drab white tent covered with a matching duster, completely colorless and shapeless. Shirley MacLaine whisks her off for the inevitable magical makeover -- and she emerges with a $29.99 fat girl's bob* and a long, droopy pastel pink-on-pink suit with about 17 layers to it, entirely colorless and shapeless. This is enough to make Brendan Fraser fall in love.
In the whole movie, Connie only gets to wear one remotely pretty outfit. At her engagement party, she has a sparkly purple gown with a boned corset that actually displays her rack and shows her waist. When lowlife Steve remarks, "Not for nothin', Connie, but that's a good look on you," he's not wrong -- or he wouldn't be if the dress weren't inappropriately floorlength and equipped with an unnecessary jacket to prevent her from God forbid showing her arms.
I initially thought that the costume designer was a talentless hack who should be horsewhipped and drummed out of the corps forthwith, but it turns out that she may have done one or two OK little projects, so I must place the blame elsewhere. And then it hit me.
Now, I know absolutely nothing about the backstory of this production. I don't know how it came to be made, how Ricki Lake got cast, or how Richard Benjamin got involved. But it's clear to me now that Benjamin didn't want to work with Ricki. He thought she was fat and unfuckable, and that since he didn't want to do her, neither Brendan Fraser or anyone would or should want to do her. So his directions to the costume department, stated or unstated, were: "Keep her covered." (This also explains the almost entire lack of love scenes -- an odd omission for a rom-com, n'est pas?)
I also don't know much about where this movie falls during Ricki's dramatic weight loss story.** The only details I could find, at IMDB, said that she'd already lost 125 pounds but "they" made her lose another 20 before filming (which: figures!). Now, I think it's fair to say that in this movie, Ricki is certainly not Hollywood slender; she might even be a little chunky. But she was a very pretty girl before she lost weight, and she's a very pretty girl at whatever weight she is here. With another director, and better clothes, I think more people would have seen that.
*I have a fat girl's bob. I like it and it works for me. But I'm not a 19-year-old lady of leisure with nothing to do but fit in with the millionaires and/or snag a man.
**Yeah, I kind of hate her for selling out and spreading her if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can-do-it bullshit, but I have to admire her. However she did it, a woman who's lost that much weight and kept it off for more than 5 years is literally a freak of nature.