From the Archive: Born Yesterday


Melanie Griffith was one of the more trying performers during my time as a film reviewer in college. It’s not simply that she wasn’t a very strong actress. She also had the clout, coming off a flare to stardom and an Oscar nomination for 1988’s Working Girl, to get cast in a healthy number of movies that were high-profile enough to land in our little Midwestern town. So unlike some others whose work I found wanting, I couldn’t avoid Griffith through the early nineties. The weariness shows up towards the end of review when I list other recent affronts to my cineaste sensibility that Griffith had recently perpetrated (I hadn’t even seen the debacle that is Bonfire of the Vanities yet). While I was correct that the Born Yesterday remake didn’t join its inspiration in winning award, it did contend for one. Griffith was a nominee for Worst Actress at The Razzies. She was up against Madonna in Body of Evidence, though, which is roughly the Razzies equivalent of Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. This review was written for The Pointer and given the headline “Film uncovers character flaws.” Clearly, they had their own bout of weariness going on.

Throughout her career, Melanie Griffith has been compared to Judy Holliday, so it made sense when the word came that she would be appearing in the remake of the 1950 film “Born Yesterday,” taking on the role that won Holliday an Oscar. Unlikely the original, this modern version is not likely to be picking up any awards.

Griffith plays Billie Dawn, a former Las Vegas showgirl who tags along with her real estate magnate boyfriend (John Goodman) on a trip to Washington, D.C. When her blatantly uninformed approach to conversation begins to hinder Goodman’s ploy to influence the voting patterns of some senators, he hires a newspaper reporter to “smarten her up.” The unlikely choice to play this savvy, bright journalist is Griffith’s real-life husband, Don Johnson.

Though meant to be a frothy comedy, the film is desperately lacking in a sense of humor. Neither Griffith nor Johnson show any show for comedic timing, and the usually terrific Goodman is stuck with a lumbering brute of a character that he overplays with monstrous aggression.

A supposedly light-hearted segment in which Griffith leads a group from Washington’s upper crust in an insipid sing-along version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that replaces the days with Constitutional Amendments is paced so slowly that the scene becomes grating rather than cute or funny. Director Luis Mandoki (“White Palace”) also inserts some darker, more serious scenes into the film that are woefully out of place. Mandoki saturates the picture with drippy monologues that are delivered by Griffith with a squeaky lack of authority.

Last year Griffith was miscast as a determined spy (“Shining Through”) and a tough New York cop (“A Stranger Among Us”), but now with “Born Yesterday” she proves that she can still deliver a lousy performance even when she plays a simpler character closer to her range. What’s worse, every aspect of the film matches the quality level set by Griffith.