Some years ago, actor George Hamilton, famous escort and espouser of the eternal suntan, amused TV personality/mogul Merv Griffin with the tales of his peripatetic upbringing. Center stage of the stories wasn’t George, but his mother, Anne Potter Hamilton Hunt Spalding, a beautiful and resourceful Southern belle who married and divorced four times. Griffin was fascinated with George’s reveries, some of which are revealed in Hamilton’s just published autobiography (Don’t Mind If I Do). With the help of Charlie Peters, a talented but much underrated script writer (Krippendorff’s Tribe, Music from Another Room), Griffin nurtured the tales into a movie production. (Merv Griffin died in 2007. The film is dedicated to him.)
The result, directed by Richard Loncraine (Firewall), doesn’t lay claim to the absolute truth (then again, neither do Hamilton’s stories). Instead it draws on threads of truth for impact and weaves a delightful, unforgettable female Odyssey, 1950s style.
Without any fanfare (which undoubtedly will kill it at the box office), My One And Only emerges as one of the best movies of the year–a perfect family story for adults, witty, sad, hilarious, thoughtful, all the roles perfectly cast, most especially Renee Zellweger, who is at long last given a character and a script that shows off her range as an actress. Why this wonderful movie is showing at only one theatre in town is totally beyond me. But kudos must go to the Beaucatcher for bringing it to Asheville. Alas, if you want to see it, and see it on the big screen to enjoy it fully, you’ll have to hurry.
Here’s the movie’s version of the story. It’s the 1950s, in stylish Manhattan. Sandra Devreaux (Renee Zellweger, Appaloosa) comes home early from vacation to find her husband, band leader Dan Devreaux (Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance), in bed with someone other than herself. Weary of his infidelities, and despite his protestations of love, Sandra decides to leave him. She packs up her things, which includes two teenage sons. They are: from her first marriage Robbie (Mark Rendall, 30 Days of Night), a fey redhead who loves helping his mother choose the proper handbag, and from her second marriage George (Logan Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma, Hoot), who has inherited his mother’s good looks but not her positive spirit. Doing a terrific unintentional Scarlett O’Hara imitation, Sandra intones, “Things may be bad now, but in the end everthing will work out.” George, the budding cynic, is not convinced.
Sandra disregards George’s painful reminder that she is not as young as she once was. She’s still beautiful, and with men that’s all that counts, she’s assured. Besides, she knows the key to a man’s heart. “A woman never appears more intelligent to a man,” she informs George, “than when she’s listening.”
She sets off in a new Cadillac convertible in search of old beaux and new ones, whoever she can charm into marrying her and being a father to her sons. Alas, one after the other, all the men she thinks hold promise turn out to be cads–or worse, they’re broke. But she powders her nose and fluffs her hair despite all the setbacks. Once, while literally just trying to recover from a disappointing prospect, she chats up a man in a hotel bar–it turns out he’s the hotel detective and she ends up in jail on a charge of prostitution. What a low point, I was literally in tears–but she still won’t call her ex-husband for help.
Penniless, she and the boys end up at her sister’s house in St. Louis. Aunt Hope (wonderfully played by Robin Weigart, Synecdoche, New York) has always resented Sandra’s beauty and the riches, including children, that Sandra acquired. The two women dance around one another as the bonds of sibling rivalry grow tighter and more cruel. Finally, another man appears, then disappears, but at least this one came with a settlement and off Sandra goes again–this time headed for Hollywood where Robbie is convinced he wants to be an actor. George wants to stay with his aunt where he imagines life will be normal. Yeah, sure…
And the story continues, one amazing adventure after another, all with the ring of truth, yet certainly with more wit, until they all end up in Hollywood. Robbie flubs his long- awaited screen test but in a twist of fate, George steps in–and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
Meanwhile, Mom, who in reality went on to marry two more times, in the movie has decided, grandly, in the nature of women’s movies, that she has finally discovered strength within herself–and she doesn’t need a man to help pay her bills. Lovely ending and it works perfectly, even if it is slightly suspicious.
Whether you know this is a version of George Hamilton’s biography from the beginning of the film or are surprised at the end doesn’t matter. It’s totally enjoyable every single second.
Don’t procrastinate. If you love good dramas, with lots of sly humor and terrific performances, run to see My One and Only.