Set in the mid-1950s, Richard Loncraine's “My One and Only” is an old-fashioned, mildly amusing but sharply uneven film about the early years of the Hollywood actor and then pop icon, the perpetually sun-tanned George Hamilton.
The effort to combine elements of the road movie with a fictionalized biopic are not entirely successful, and in the lead role, as a fading Southern Belle, Renee Zellweger is just decent and passably entertaining but no more, considering that she is the center of the narrative.
Ultimately, “My One and Only” is more effective as a dissection of the American (and Hollywood) dream and a coming-of-age saga than as a biopic, though Loncraine and his scribe, Charlie Peters, are careful in pointing out that their saga “is only loosely inspired on episodes from the life of George Hamilton. Indeed, the need to grow up fast and become a self-reliant man in order to have a chance of survival in a ruthless and competitive world is the more poignant subject of the film.
The film opens with a child's attempt to buy a Cadillac. If a Cadillac is the American Dream car, it serves as a fine metaphor what follows. The explanation given to the car dealer concerns society woman Anne Deveraux (Reneé Zellweger), who has just caught her bandleader husband Dan (Kevin Bacon) in bed with another woman. Anne responds by packing her things, pulling her two teenage sons out of school, and withdrawing her cash, passing it off to her son to procure their transportation out of town. Soon mother and sons are on a meandering road trip across 1950s America. Their destination is unknown, but an incessant optimism prompts Anne to believe that everything will work out in the end.
Even before the story opens, a series of postcard views of roadside America hint at the eclectic nature of the ensuing adventures. The events and the plot they comprise seem like an afterthought, which is a shame, for “My One and Only” is a warm, well-crafted, mildly enjoyable film, if also too familiar, lacking sharp wit or distinctive angle.
Viewers will be familiar with the film's world from recent popular representations in TV's “Mad Men,” which is set in 1960, and last year's Sam Mendes' Oscar-nominated “Revolutionary Road,” which takes place in 1955. Beyond the lush design of cocktails, Coca-Cola, and cars with fins lurk some little-remembered facts about post-War America, the economic uncertainty, rampant materialism, the uncertain and underdeveloped sense of women's roles in society.
A road movie is a way to show it all, and the glamour of midtown Manhattan finds a striking visual contrast in the film's back alleys, farmhouses, and motor lodges. “My One and Only” takes as its goal the depiction of an era which is defined by contradictory traits, a tug of nostalgia as well as awareness of social-cultural flaws, such as emphasis on middle-class stability at all costs, or the tendency of older men to court much younger women.
Anne learns about those flaws the hard way. A kept woman much of her life, the dream of independence begins when she purchases a brand new Cadillac, then begins to die when she realizes she has to let her underage son take the wheel, as her driving skills are far from adept. As they move from town to town, seeking out the charity of relatives and old suitors, the accumulated flaws turn into desperation. Anne tries several times to get married to a good provider, each time finding different reason that what seems too good to be true actually is.
As Anne matures and learns about the world, her son George (Logan Lerman) is also growing up. At first, George tries keeping in touch with his left-behind father, but a string of unanswered letters and an anticlimactic meeting when the two cross paths on the road lead him to feeling abandoned and the realization that he must start work on becoming his own man.
George's half brother Robbie (Mark Rendall), Anne's son from a previous marriage, supplies the comic relief as one of the most unapologetic gay stereotypes in recent memory: He gives his mother fashion advice in a lispy voice, does needle point in the back seat, and ultimately becomes a famous wardrobe consultant.
“My One and Only” keeps our interest with its trio of engaging characters and solid performances. Anne, George, and Dan are clearly products of the times, gaining credibility from the film's period.
Unfortunately, most of Ann's suitors are narrowly defined, usually by one attribute, failing to give their actors an opportunity to develop a character.
Steve Weber plays an old beau who is more troubled than Ann. Chris Noh (“Sex and the City”) is an army doctor who suffers from a “battle fatigue.” David Koechner is a paint storeowner, who might have used too much of its product for himself.
With limited screen time Kevin Bacon is sympathetic despite his character's obvious moral shortcomings, and Zellweger balances the naivety and confidence that one would expect from a woman in Anne's position. Logan Lerman is a revelation, changing subtly as the narrative progresses, until he is revealed to be George Hamilton.
Since so much of “My One and Only” covers Anne's odyssey, the last-minute shift in focus to George is a bit jarring but not a major problem. This is yet another symptom of a troubled script, which earlier relies heavily on repetition to fill out the story. By the third or fourth time Anne fails to secure her future, there is little doubt that her efforts are in vain and that she and her sons will soon be back on the road, destined to wander, until George decides to detach himself from the family.
I very seldom feel this way, but perhaps a female writer and a female director might have given this kind of story a fresher look, not necessarily a feminist one, but a different angle that would have made the same events and subplots far more interesting to observe than they are in Loncraine's picture.
Michael T. Dennis contributed to this essay.
Anne Deveraux – Reneé Zellweger
George – Logan Lerman
Robbie – Mark Rendall
Dan Deveraux – Kevin Bacon
Bud – Nick Stahl
Harlan – Chris Noth
Herrick Entertainment, Merv Griffin Entertainment, Raygun Productions, and Runaway Home Productions
Directed by Richard Loncraine
Written by Charlie Peters
Producers, George Hamilton, Carolyn Harris, Elayne Herrick, Michael Herrick, Norton Herrick, Robert Kosberg, Rob Pritchard, Vicki Dee Rock, Aaron Ryder, Beatrice Springborn, and Ron Ward
Original music, Mark Isham
Cinematographer, Marco Pontecorvo
Editor, Humphrey Dixon
Casting, Mary Gail Artz and Shani Ginsberg
Production Designer, Brian Morris
Art Directors, Guy Barnes and Halina Gebarowicz