My One And Only (2009)

It’s 1953.  George Deveraux is an upper class 15-year-old trying to buy a new car in the opening scene of My One And Only.  The salesmen won’t sell it to him until he explains where he got all that money he’s carrying.  The aloof teenager quickly brings them up to speed. 
His housewife mother, Anne (a terribly miscast Renee Zellweger), has finally left his father, Dan (a terribly miscast Kevin Bacon), the philandering leader of a travelling swing band.  He’s a one-hit wonder on the charts but a superstar in the sheets.  (Good luck remembering the melody of the song that made him famous.)  When Anne unexpectedly returns to their New York apartment on the Upper West Side a day early (she was on a solitary vacation), she catches his latest conquest in their bed and finally decides to leave for good after nearly 20 years together (hard to believe considering the lack of chemistry between them).  Dan doesn’t think she means it but when she gets back on that elevator, she exits her old life for good (without filing divorce papers (unless I missed that part) or reverting to her maiden name, it should be noted).
Unfortunately, she’s a stereotypically dumb blonde.  How dumb is she?  When she tries to pull her two sons, George (Logan Lerman) and the theatrical, effeminate Robbie (the sometimes funny Mark Rendall), from class, she goes to the wrong school.  Once she finds them, she makes a pit stop to the bank where she empties her safety deposit box of cash and a loaded pistol and leaves behind her wedding ring.  She gives George the money to get proper transportation for their forthcoming journey.
Right after George tells this uninteresting story, she arrives at the dealership and the salesmen fawn all over her before teaching her the art of negotiation.  (Haven’t these guys seen a cute girl before?)  Not long after that, the family of three are on their way to Boston in their new ride, their first stop of many on the long road to California, a pattern which mostly annoys George who spends much of the film homesick.
Anne is overly optimistic about their future.  (Dan correctly points out that she has "delusions of grandeur".)  She doesn’t desire to look for employment, though.  In fact, she’s on the prowl for a new, rich husband, a human gravy train she can hitch the family wagon to.  (She’s too stubborn to accept Dan’s money which she’d be entitled to if she ever divorced the lech unless they’re actually split up.  I was never sure.) 
In Boston, she literally bumps into old flame Wallace McAllister (Steven Weber) who actually attempted suicide years ago when Anne turned down his wedding proposal.  (Really?)  On their dinner date, however, he has no interest in starting things up again.  His business is floundering and he desperately needs to borrow 75 grand (but he’ll settle for 50) to keep things afloat.  (He never actually mentions what his business is, which is kind of weird.)  He even raises his voice to emphasize the serious nature of his request.  Turned off by his boldness, Anne excuses herself momentarily to regroup in the bathroom.  When she returns, he’s already split.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to leave your purse there, Anne. 
Stuck with the dinner tab and no dough to pay it, a military man named, and I’m not making this up, Harlan Williams (not played by the Canadian comic but by Mr. Big himself, Chris Noth, who I also think is miscast here) saves the day.  Soon thereafter, Anne is engaged.  (Shouldn’t she have legally split from Dan well before making this bad decision or did I miss something?) 
Her sons can’t stand the Colonel.  He’s humourless, gruff and territorial (although Noth isn’t nearly intense enough in the part to truly warrant our loathing).  But thankfully, an act of rare selflessness on the part of Anne leads to an argument with Williams (and an altercation with George) and the engagement is kaput.  Exhausting exactly two options in Boston, she uproots her family to Pittsburgh.  It’s here we meet the lovely and intelligent Wendy (Molly C. Quinn in a terrific performance) and her brother, Bud (Nick Stahl in full-on James Dean mode).  He’s a normally quiet mechanic who suddenly becomes chatty around the disinterested but flattered Anne (he’s not rich enough for her tastes) and she’s an upfront redhead who takes an immediate liking to George.  They’re united in their own cynicism.  During the drive-in sequence, he convinces her not to do something demeaning for money rightly noting that she’s better than that.  It marks one of the few times you like him.  For much of the movie, he’s far too unhumourously sarcastic and emotionally detached to warrant much sympathy.
It’s too bad their relationship doesn’t get more time to develop because after Anne goes through three more suitors (only one of which is actually interested in her and not for anything serious), the family is off to St. Louis.  She swallows her pride as she reluctantly visits her unhappily barren, deeply jealous sister, Hope (Robin Weigert) and her husband, Tom (J.C. MacKenzie) right around dinner time.  Realizing the bagging-a-rich-husband plan is deeply flawed (since her taste in men is horrendous), Anne tries her luck as a waitress only to get fired right away.  But things quickly turn around at her next place of employment.
Increasing sales of house paint at a franchise supply shop in town, she catches the fancy of Bill Massey (The Office’s David Koechner who deserves funnier lines), the nicest rich guy she’s ever met.  She’s led to believe he’s the heir to the Massey paint store fortune and that their impending marriage is the solution to all her problems but a stunning plot twist crushes her dreams.  You know what that means.  That’s right.  Another change of scenery.  And more trouble to come.
Believe it or not, My One And Only is somewhat of a cinematic memoir of George Hamilton’s teen years.  (I didn’t even realize this until the final scene of the movie where we learn how he came up with his stage name for his then-burgeoning Hollywood career.  He served as an Executive Producer.)  Unfortunately, it’s not very compelling.  Despite some intermittent laughs, the biggest of which come from Mark Rendell’s character, and some good supporting performances, the film lacks consistent comedy and real drama to draw us in entirely.  The PG nature of the film greatly limits its potential for stellar moments of emotional power.  Ultimately, I felt very little.
It also doesn’t help that Zellweger’s character is so dopey.  Self-absorbed, clueless and seemingly asexual, it’s hard to fathom how any man would be so drawn to her.  She’s quite charmless, too, not to mention overly mannered for a character so detached from the idea of loving kindness.  That gets quite tiresome over time. 
Zellweger’s an attractive actress but the wrong beauty to play this role.  She’s cute, but not as devastatingly beautiful as the character should be, especially if she is to have so many potential, wealthy suitors begging to be with her.  Anne is remarkably selfish and unsympathetic, too, particularly towards the needs of her two sons, only one of whom was fathered by Dan.  (We never do meet Robbie’s dad who mentions seeing a picture of him once in passing.  What the hell happened to him?) 
Speaking of Robbie, there’s an unamusing running gag involving him being cast in big roles in school play after school play but beyond uttering three words as Oedipus, he never gets a chance to deliver a single, complete performance.  (The Oedipus gig is cancelled due to a tornado warning.)  That turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
By the end, when Anne comes to a rather unconvincing realization about her personal life (just make better choices, damnit) and George & Robbie begin their Hollywood careers, you feel rather disinterested about the whole enterprise.  Throughout, the movie’s heroes are curiously muted emotionally which makes it very difficult to feel attached to them.  I can understand them being politely stoic in public (this is the 1950s we’re talking about) but where are the private screaming matches whenever Anne’s spontaneous travel plans interfere with her sons’ attempts to find happiness in one city?  There are arguments and one predictable slap to the face, but not much passion.
My One And Only is one of those projects that kicked around the Hollywood studios for years without much hope of being made.  Spearheaded by the late Merv Griffin and obviously approved by George Hamilton himself, it played very briefly in American theatres in August 2009. 
It was never exhibited theatrically in Canada.  Having seen it, I now understand why.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 5, 2010
6:41 p.m. 
Published in: on September 5, 2010 at 6:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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