Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet the Hamiltons: My One and Only

Everyone who has ever wondered about the formative influences that made George Hamilton the actor he is, should take heart. Your portrait of the tanned celebrity as a young man is finally here. While the subject matter might sound predictable and self-serving, the execution is breezy and relatively diverting in Richard Loncraine’s My One and Only (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York in advance of its September 4th national roll-out.

George Hamilton was the son of the society bandleader George “Spike” Hamilton. In Charlie Peters’s somewhat fictionalized screenplay, he is the son of big band front-man Dan Devereaux, who might be a one hit wonder with the title song, “My One and Only,” but is still famous enough to attract plenty of volunteers for his serial philandering. Catching him in the act, his exasperated wife Ann responds by pulling George and his half-brother Robbie out of school and heading out on the open road in a newly purchased Cadillac.

With limited funds, Ann plans to fall back on the only work she has ever known: marriage. Starting in New York, they generally work their way west as Ann looks up a parade of former beaus and eligible bachelors, played by a who’s who of former sitcom stars.

In Boston she finds her old flame Wallace (Steven Weber from Wings) has fallen on hard times, so she gets hitched Dr. Harlan Williams (Sex and the City’s Christ Noth) instead. However, he turns out to be an unfortunate caricature of the uptight veteran and not proper marriage material after all. Moving on to Pittsburgh, she briefly reconnects with Charlie (Eric McCormack of Will & Grace), a former lover even shallower than herself. Eventually, the trio is forced to crash with Ann’s sister in St. Louis, while she romances Bill Massey (a regular on The Office), an heir to the local paint store fortune.

Renée Zellweger is perfectly cast as Ann Devereaux, a woman desperately trading on her former cuteness. As young Devereaux/Hamilton, Logan Lerman shows tremendous screen presence, giving a nicely nuanced performance. (In fact, he probably shows more potential here than Hamilton did in his early roles.) However, Kevin Bacon seems off-key as Dan Devereaux, sounding like he is trying to do an impression of someone famous, but failing. Still, it begs the question whether Only counts as a “Seven Degrees” connection between him and Hamilton, even though the tanned one never appears on-screen.

Composer Mark Isham deserves credit for a swing-oriented score that keeps things peppy and buoyant. His themes evoke a time when you could still have an elegant evening dancing in a hotel ballroom, even though the sounds of rock-n-roll could be heard just over the distant horizon. Peters’s screenplay has some surprisingly witty verbal sparring and avoids some of the pitfalls of the familiar road movie conceit. Unfortunately, every flamboyantly effeminate cliché is liberally applied to Robbie, the fashion expert, reducing him to a mere stereotype. Still, Loncraine wisely keeps things moving along, never letting the film get bogged down in family melodrama.

One might reasonably expect Only to be painfully campy, but it largely plays it straight, resisting the urge to constantly wink at the camera. It affectionately recreates a sense of groovy Route 66 America (nicely supported by Isham’s very hip score), and provides some decent laughs along the way. It opens this Friday (8/21) in New York and Los Angeles.