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It’s 1953, and a fading Southern socialite has left her philandering husband and dragged her two sons from New York to California in search of a new life. When her younger boy, George, expresses his cynical reservations for about the billionth time, she suggests he head for the beach: “Go get yourself some color, George, you’re paler than a nun’s behind!”
It’d be just a throwaway joke in any other film, but in My One and Only, the line is actually a wink—for this is the fictionalized adolescence of George Hamilton, now known more for his tan than for his acting career. Really, though, that fact is so insignificant you’re more likely to discover it while reading about the film than from the story’s tiny clues. The plot instead focuses on Mom, Ann Devereaux (Renée Zellweger), whose self-involvement and self-delusion are as deep as Hamilton’s skin tone. When Ann leaves George’s father (Kevin Bacon), she gives the 15-year-old boy (Logan Lerman) a wad of cash to go buy a Cadillac for the trio (including fey half-brother, Robbie, played by Mark Rendall) to tool around the country in. Ann subsequently arrives in each city—including Boston, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis—expecting to quickly catch a new sugar daddy. When that doesn’t pan out, it’s on to the next.
One of the problems of My One and Only, brought to you by the director of 2004’s awful Wimbledon (Richard Loncraine) and the writer of 1998’s atrocious Krippendorf’s Tribe (Charlie Peters), is that there’s little variance on Ann’s cycle of move, meet, flame out, repeat. She almost always runs into an old beau or potential conquest the day she arrives in a new place, and that man almost always has a spectacular flaw, such as being a shameless, broke drunk or so mentally ill as to repeatedly get engaged to women despite already having a wife—all to serve the film’s wannabe-screwball sensibility, of course, while Zellweger scrunches, mugs, and pouts.
Loncraine adorns his period piece with the proper flair, from a big-band soundtrack to sharply tailored clothes. From the opening scene, though—with Zellweger’s and, more egregiously, Bacon’s grating accents—it all feels like cheap dress-up. There are too many quips (especially the queenly, oh snap! type from Robbie), too many moments that scream Acting! (dramatic turn-aways and studied recoils), too much spoken insistence that Ann is unsinkable, plucky, and, most distractingly, a great beauty. (Sorry, Renée, you may be nicely polished here, but your prettiness has grown too odd to be considered ravishing). Lerman—who, if anyone, deserves to be singled out for looks—is the sole highlight, with a confident yet natural turn as the film’s narrator and only non-caricatured voice of reason. But he can’t save a story that comes across as contrived and ultimately forgettable. At the very end of My One and Only, we finally see how George Devereaux started taking his first steps toward becoming George Hamilton. Had the filmmakers condensed the Mommy nonsense and developed the story from here, they might have shaped a watchable biopic instead of a generic road-trip/coming-of-age/up-by-your-bootstraps hybrid.