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09.23.09

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Phaedra

Her Scrunchiness: Renée Zellweger plays a mom on the move in 'My One and Only.'

The Big Tepid

Renee Zellweger motors through the 1950s in vague biopic 'My One and Only.'

By Richard von Busack


AT ONE POINT in the wearying '50s-era road movie My One and Only, Robbie (Mark Rendall) coaxes his mother to "find a balance between Dorothy Malone and Donna Reed." This line bothered me on a couple of levels. Firstly, this kind of opposition shows a hazy memory of 1950s movies: Reed was hardly the most chaste-looking woman on the Ike-era screens (remember From Here to Eternity)? This vagueness increases in a Pennsylvania drive-in scene where a young girl goes on about the phoniness of Hollywood movies, even while she's watching a very un-Hollywood Hollywood movie, Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. (The director here is an old-timer, 63-year-old Richard Loncraine, and he still didn't respect the law that it's a bad idea to cut to a movie that's better than the one we're watching.)

Moreover, Renée "The Scrunchtress" Zellweger really has neither the qualities of the bad/good Malone nor the good/bad Reed. Zellweger has vivacity, God knows, but this movie treats her like a great beauty who staggers everyone who passes.

Zellweger plays Ann Devereaux as an opportunistic Southern lady, straight out of Mame: grand, but always looking for a husband. She's separated from her last husband (Kevin Bacon), a jazz bandleader. Impulsively, she takes her first son, Robbie, and her second son, George (Logan Lerman), off in a Cadillac convertible to find a new life. The obviously gay Robbie prepares for school plays that never come off. George--a writer-to-be dazzled by J.D. Salinger--tries to maintain contact with his father while chafing at the long ride west across America.

The production design by Brian Morris, the music by Mark Isham and the photography by Marco Pontecorvo are all of a high quality. The '50s urban locations are expensive looking. But scarcely a minute of My One and Only rings true: from little things like a lady leaving her purse at a table with a man she's learned not to trust, or bigger moments like a pumped-up scene of a robbery-minded hitchhiker. Loncraine overprepares the audience for every development, which is odd because the mood in so many of the scenes seems uncertain, as if no one knew whether they were comic or tragic.

David Koechner, known for playing bald, portly oddballs, is excellent as Bill, a paint-company magnate with whom Ann becomes briefly affianced. Bill is asked to give young George some advice on how to deal with women. The boy winces, expecting something embarrassing. What Bill actually says is that women are seldom the right temperature, and a gentleman ought to keep an extra sweater around for their sake--and that's all a man really needs to know.

There's a final surprise: My One and Only turns out to be the life story of a noted movie actor. I heard my own mom--an easygoing woman, too, but she knew her movies--once describing this mystery actor as "a male starlet." Not to spoil the ending, but this real George is best loved for one film, a cult spoof, where his daintiness and his peerless mahogany tan helped him send up famous swashbucklers. He was always very popular with the women too. He must have always had that extra sweater on hand.


Movie Times MY ONE AND ONLY (PG-13; 108 min.), directed by Richard Loncraine, written by Charlie Peters, photographed by Marco Pontecorvo and starring Renée Zellweger and Logan Lerman, plays at the Aptos Cinema and the Del Mar Theatre.


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