Dir: Richard Loncraine. US. 2009. 108mins.
The true story of actor George Hamilton’s teenage years with an eccentric, self-absorbed mother, My One And Only is a solid, good-looking road movie benefiting from a sharp script and uniformly strong acting. As an old-fashioned travelogue steeped in fifities Americana, it’s not immediately apparent as a box office breakout especially since the star is Renee Zellweger whose career has floundering of late. But the fact that she is on fine form here should bring it some marketing luster and female audiences especially should warm to the drama which focuses on bonds between mother and sons.
Although beautifully produced and well directed by Brit Richard Loncraine (also on form after the underwhelming Wimbledon and Firewall), My One And Only is nevertheless a minor film whose subject matter feels all too familiar. It is unlikely to carve out a bigger slice of business than other female-led family pieces like Anywhere But Here, Where The Heart Is, Mermaids or Georgia Rule. Media interest in Hamilton himself (he is an executive producer here) can only help.
Set in the mid-50s but thankfully devoid of many of the cliches that era inspires (there are only fleeting references to Commies and the nuclear threat), the film begins in New York City when Ann Devereaux (Zellweger) catches her bandleader husband Dan (Bacon) cheating with another woman in her own bed. She immediately leaves him, taking her two sons George (Lerman), whose father is Dan, and Robbie (Rendall), a son from her previous marriage, in a brand new Cadillac to Boston.
There and in Pittsburgh, St Louis and finally Los Angeles, Ann attempts to find a new husband and father for her children, although her maternal skills are decidedly lacking and her priority is locating a wealthy benefactor to keep her in the manner to which she is accustomed.
Each time she thinks she has found the perfect man - an imperious army colonel (Noth), the heir to a painting fortune (Koechner), a former boyfriend (McCormack) - the liaisons end in disaster. And while the effeminate Robbie is loving the ride as they head to Hollywood where he dreams of becoming an actor, George becomes increasingly disenchanted with their dwindling resources and his inability to settle down into his studies. Things come to a head in St Louis when he decides to stay with his aunt (Weigert) rather than
continue with his mother.
Zellweger has been struggling of late to find vehicles which suit her particular talents and she seemed uncomfortable in Miss Potter, Appaloosa and New In Town. Playing a southern woman whose skill at attracting rich husbands is starting to fail her as age catches up with her, she finally finds a character that fits. Endearing but callous, resilient but vulnerable, Zellwegger capably encompasses all the contradictions of this proud woman and effectively carries the arc of her character from man-dependent to self-sufficient, a lousy mother (as her son calls her) to a good one.
Since she spends so much of the film with two teen actors, their work is equally crucial and Lerman and Rendall are more than up to the task. Lerman as the young Hamilton is especially impressive in conveying George’s growing maturity as he is forced to make his own decisions in the face of his often infantile parent.
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