Back in 1946, Garson Kanin wrote the play Born Yesterday, the story of Billie Dawn, a Las Vegas showgirl who learns to navigate the shark infested waters of Washington D.C. politics. It was produced as a film in 1951, and was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture. The star of the film, Judy Holliday, won the Oscar for Best Actress against the likes of Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for All About Eve and Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard.
This newer version of the film, made in 1994, stars Melanie Griffith as Billie, the ‘eye candy’ mistress of Harry Brock (John Goodman), a rich construction tycoon who comes to Washington to lobby politicians into protecting his interests by keeping a military base open. Upon arriving, Brock also has to deal with Paul Verrall (Don Johnson), a writer for The New Republic that has the potential to help Harry in the long run. Within a short time, Brock and Billie are mingling among the Washington elite, and it’s clear that Billie is merely a goldfish swimming in the shark tank. Her life consists of lying on her bed, watching soap operas, eating candy, doing leg lifts and beating Harry at gin rummy. Anything else is beyond her grasp of intelligence. Harry realizes that she may become a liability and hires Verrall as a $500.00 a day tutor.
There is an immediate spark between Billie and Paul, which goes only as far as a kiss. The first lesson for Billie is a series of statements that could be used at any Washington party. Paul guides her through this and she becomes a hit, but not to Harry. He congratulates Paul like he just taught a dog a new trick. Billie realizes she wants more than to just be Harry’s trophy, and becomes determined to learn. First off, she attempts to read Democracy in America, but can’t get past the first 13 pages.
As Billie continues her tutoring, she develops self-awareness as to what is going on around her. Her ability to learn the amendments to the Constitution by using the Twelve Days of Christmas charms the Washington insiders, but causes a level of contempt in Harry. Billie is with Harry for more than just show, she is with him for a reason. Once Billie finds out this reason, she discovers that knowledge is power. And like her playing gin rummy with Harry, she holds all of the cards.
Born Yesterday is an average romantic comedy that gets a little mean near the end. I was actually shocked by the turn of events. It felt really out of place in this film. Director Luis Mandocki’s resume of films is probably most noted for When a Man Loves a Woman and Message in a Bottle, and this film is pretty much in his wheelhouse. The film builds to a climax that, like I said, feels like it should be in another movie. The ending feels very abrupt, like it got trimmed to save time.
The cast for Born Yesterday baffles me. Melanie Griffith plays another version of her Tess McGill character from Working Girl. Her performances from one film to another are identical, which is probably due to her cupie doll voice. There's not much you can do with that voice, so her character choices are limited. Don Johnson looks like he sleep walked his way through this film. He appears bored in every scene. John Goodman does the best of the three leads, but his character is all over. Do you like the guy or do you hate him. He obviously cares for Billie, but his actions and his dialogue deny him of bringing out a well-rounded character. He’s just all over the emotional map without direction.
The film has some very nice moments, but they are so few and far between. The direction is very pedestrian. It lacked an effective build to an effective conclusion. To be honest, it really didn’t have a conclusion. And I really don’t know what to say about Melanie Griffith. Thank goodness there are roles like this so she can work. My suggestion is to find the 1951 version of the film and enjoy that.
Born Yesterday is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4 video codec. Although the image is a little soft, the details and textures are still very good. Skin tones are natural. Colors are vibrant. Black levels are good. There is a small amount of grain noticed, but it is very minimal. I am very impressed with this 20 year old title. Mill Creek has a tendency to deliver less than stellar transfers, and Born Yesterday delivers on the goods.
Unfortunately, the DTS-HD 5.1 audio transfer for the film is a letdown. This is a front channel heavy soundtrack, with the rear surrounds only used for the musical score. There appears to be an issue with the mix. The dialogue is really muffled in comparison to the rest of the sound from the film. The score from the rear channels comes off as overly-bright. There are no directional effects noted. Basically it's a typical Rom-Com transfer.
The disc is pretty bare when it comes to extras. It only contains the film's trailer.
Born Yesterday had a strong pedigree. After all, the original version was nominated for Best Picture. Unfortunately, the film lost a lot in its translation from 1951 to 1993. I lost interest in the characters, the build to any form of a climax was non-existant. Basically, I lost interest in these people. The real surprise is how good the film looks from a company not known for good transfers. Although the sound is pretty standard for this type of movie, the picture looks terrific. Let us hope that Mill Creek continues with this trend.