A jilted mother takes her sons for a ride as she searches for Mr. Right.
A smart, warm, funny movie based on George Hamilton's teenage adventures? Amazingly, yes. Even more amazing, you don't need to know the first thing about the suave 1960s semi-star to enjoy this screwball memoir. It's not a "star is born" Hollywood yarn but the story of a proud, sometimes misguided mother fighting to keep her family together. "My One and Only" is like a tale told by a first-rate raconteur, its twists and turns all the more intriguing because it's all true -- more or less.
The film unfolds over the course of a summer in the early 1950s. Fifteen-year-old George (Logan Lerman) has been dispatched by his mother, Ann Devereaux (Renée Zellweger), to buy a Cadillac convertible with several thousand dollars in cash. She had just returned to the family's lavish New York City apartment to encounter her bandleader husband (Kevin Bacon) in his boxers, with a brunette in their bed. Ann's response is to pack up George and his fey half-brother Robbie (Mark Rendall) and drive across the United States, with stops in every town where she has a former beau.
Egocentric, impractical, wily and still lovely, she aims to marry well and be richly provided for. The trio head west in their jaunty baby-blue Coupe de Ville, unaware what a comically rough ride it will be. What Ann hasn't realized is that she's not the youngest or prettiest gold-digger around, and only seriously flawed suitors remain on the market. George, who simply wants to be a normal high-schooler, finds himself as the caretaker of a self-centered woman with limited nurturing skills. He'd rather return to live with his father, even if Dad is a two-timer (or more likely a five- or six-timer). Better the devil he knows than the other replacement husbands Ann is auditioning.
If there's a problem with the film, it's the episodic, mildly repetitive structure. Time and again Ann sets her sights on a prospect who seems too good to be true, only to realize he is. Chris Noth ("Sex and the City's" prize catch, Mr. Big) does a great turn as a military man whose bluff charm is just so much camouflage. One old flame isn't as well-off as he seems, another has an abusive streak, a handsome stranger at a chic hotel bar misinterprets Ann's friendly attention and gets her in hot water. Ann takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders and returns to the fray, convinced that "things always work out in the end." Her confidence in the face of disappointment is a most appealing trait.
The film has a handsome period sheen. English director Richard Loncraine ("Wimbledon") has a sharp eye for Americana and wide-open Western landscapes. Charlie Peters' script is peppered with wry commentary about mid-century optimism; a talkative asbestos salesman regales the family with visions of a world made fireproof with his product in every wall.
The supporting cast is uniformly strong. Nick Stahl is memorable as a James Dean-esque neighbor who comes to the family's aid in Philadelphia. Robin Weigert delivers a standout turn as Ann's envious sister, who is slightly less attractive, has a stable and loving if unglamorous life, and feels bitterly cheated by life. Lerman and Rendall are engaging as the mismatched brothers.
But the film belongs to Zellweger, who gives Ann a Southern belle's outward fragility and inner resilience. Along with "Chicago's" avaricious Roxie Hart and endearing Bridget Jones, the unsinkable Ann Devereaux may be remembered as one of her signature roles.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186