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My One and Only
Running time 108 minutes
Written by Charlie Peters
Directed by Richard Loncraine
Starring  Renée Zellweger, Logan Lerman, Mark Rendall, David Koechner, Eric McCormack, Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth

A stampede of new end-of-summer films arrives next week in time for Labor Day, and my vacation getaway—too many to adequately cover in the space I’ve been allotted. So I’m recommending one of them a week early. High on the list, there is My One and Only, a colorfully written, expertly directed and beautifully acted romp about the early life of actor George Hamilton that is guaranteed to make you feel warm all over. Just when I was beginning to give up on Renée Zellweger, she returns to glory in the role of a flighty, eccentric, often married and sadly fading Scarlett O’Hara with two teenage sons to raise who sets off on a road trip across America in search of a rich new husband. Get ready to beam with joy.

Set in the flamboyant ’50s, it begins in New York when Anne Deveraux returns to her swanky apartment from a hard day of shopping and finds her two-timing, Texas-born society bandleader husband (Kevin Bacon) in bed with another woman. Fiddle-dee-dee. The pouty, impetuous Anne packs up her two boys, George (Logan Lerman) and his older stepbrother, Robbie (Mark Rendall); hits the road to Boston in their flashy new Cadillac Eldorado convertible; and sets out to find a benefactor who will keep them all in the style to which they’ve become accustomed. From Boston to Pittsburgh, St. Louis and, finally, Los Angeles, the flaky Anne gets cheated, robbed and heartbroken by a series of poor choices for husband material, as she tries vainly to be a mother and a magnetic lover, and cling to her lost youth in the process. Oblivious to age and her dwindling talent for attracting wealthy men, Mom’s conquests lead from one disaster to the next while the boys look on with sympathy and terror. Into their lives comes the heir to an art fortune (David Koechner), who steals money from her purse in the middle of an expensive dinner date and sticks her with the check; then Mom’s third husband, an iron-fisted Army colonel and military wacko (Chris Noth) who dedicates himself to fighting the Communist menace; an old socialite boyfriend (Eric McCormack) who leads her on and then deserts her for a younger woman. In St. Louis, she compromises her ideals and gets a job in a paint store, and when business improves overnight, the owner proposes. At last, the perfect man. There’s only one problem. He’s already married and on his way to jail for bigamy. Whenever things go sour, she packs up the boys and they move to another town. All Mom wants is security. All George wants is a normal life. All Robbie wants is a movie career. No wonder the boys end up acting as surrogate parents to their ditzy mother (even bailing her out after she innocently accepts a drink from an admiring undercover detective in a hotel bar and gets falsely arrested for prostitution), and they raise each other. It’s quite a task. George is a handsome, intelligent kid with a voracious appetite for books who keeps diaries of his unorthodox experiences. Robbie is a flaming queen in training who knits and wears his mother’s pearls. Once they land in Hollywood, Mom finds work as an extra in a movie western and charms the director into auditioning Robbie for the role of a cowboy. Hand on hip, mincing to the rancher’s daughter, he is both hilarious and pathetic enough for his kid brother to offer a few pointers. George is so good that he gets the part; Robbie is happily relegated to wigs, makeup and costumes; and the unexpected new family star gets photographed on the set of his first picture, with a name on the back of his chair that reads “George Hamilton.”

I admit I was surprised by this revelation, but it’s no spoiler. My One and Only is based on two books of Mr. Hamilton’s memoirs, and he’s also the executive producer. The facts are highly embellished (no Tennessee childhood; no affair with his father’s next wife; no romance with Lynda Bird Johnson or marriage to Alana Stewart; and no perpetual suntan). But George’s father was society bandleader “Spike” Hamilton; his mother was glamorous Ann Stevens; and half-brother Robbie, whose real name was Bill, became an interior decorator. George did begin his film career in 1952, when he was 13, in a Clark Gable western called Lone Star, and went on to fame playing Hank Williams, Evel Knievel and Dracula. From barely managing to survive every crisis to supporting Ann and Bill in luxury for the rest of their lives, George Hamilton lived an unconventional life that was destined to be filmed, and there are still enough subplots left over for a sequel. The careful script by Charlie Peters turns a dysfunctional family into friends you wouldn’t mind knowing.

For any part of My One and Only to work, great acting is not only an asset but a requirement. Director Richard Loncraine gets immaculate performances from all of the men and especially the two boys. Mark Rendall knows just when to reign in the campy aspects of Robbie’s effeminacy and keep him overwhelmingly likable, and in the pivotal role of George, young Logan Lerman is a true revelation with blazing promise. Tough but vulnerable, Ms. Zellweger is a lonely, misunderstood Southern belle who is infuriating, adorable and touching at the same time—one of those little extra people in life who never fits in, a piece left out of the puzzle in the rain. Quirky and mercurial, she invests society’s definition of a lousy mother with a big, radiant heart. It’s her best role in years, and she wears it like a form-fitting pelisse.

[Rex Reed awarded this movie 3 and 1/2 stars, not 2 1/2 as originally printed. The Observer regrets the error.]  

  Welcome Back, Renée!