Saturday 15 August 2020

Movie Review: Only The Lonely (1991)

A romantic comedy about breaking the umbilical cord, Only The Lonely benefits from a strong cast and sharply drawn characters.

In Chicago, Danny Muldoon (John Candy) is a 38 year old police officer of Irish descent, content with a stalled career driving the prisoner transfer wagon. A batchelor without romantic prospects, he lives with his overbearing, racist and caustic mother Rose (Maureen O'Hara), and dedicates his life to pleasing her. His brother Patrick (Kevin Dunn) is happy to take advantage of Danny's easy-going nature. Meanwhile neighbour Nick (Anthony Quinn) is trying, most unsuccessfully, to start a romance with Rose.

Danny meets mortician Theresa Luna (Ally Sheedy), and they start dating. She is an introvert, and he helps her break out of her shell. But Rose is terrified of losing control over Danny, and starts undermining the budding romance. Partick starts pushing for Danny and Rose to relocate to Florida to avoid any responsibilities for looking after his mother. As much as Theresa starts to love Danny, she needs him to learn to stand up for himself.

A John Hughes production playing on the theme of nice guys finish last (or never even enter the race), Only The Lonely teases out the clash between family loyalty and personal growth. Writer and director Chris Columbus creates a conflict triangle, Danny forced to confront the incompatibility between unquestionable dedication to a selfish mother and starting down the road towards defining his own happiness.

The film maintains an agreeable sense of humour throughout, and the romance between two tentative and self-doubting individuals evolves in modest increments. However, the 12 year age difference between Candy and Sheedy is an unnecessary irritant, and Columbus cannot avoid the tendency to overproduce (both Halloween and Christmas have to make dressed-up appearances). A couple of jokes ("sometimes it's good to be a cop") are overused to eye-rolling levels, and the climax ends with the oh-so-tired race to an unplanned rendevouz.

But credit is due for featuring a portly actor as the romantic lead, and for venturing into the relatively rarely explored terrain of difficult mother-son relationships. Older people can get away with a lot by playing the age and experience card, and here Columbus asks how far is too far and when should verbal abuse, emotional blackmail and racism be called out, regardless of the aggressor's age and family ties. Because this is a romantic comedy Rose's character is afforded a soft landing, but the questions raised are worthwhile.

Maureen O'Hara is a sparkly presence in her return to the big screen for the first time since 1971's Big Jake, and Anthony Quinn is the grizzled veteran seeking a final romance in the sunset of life. Jim Belushi and Macaulay Culkin appear in small supporting roles. 

Only The Lonely glides towards the usual tidy endings with no loose thread left behind, but does so with admirable depth and polish for the genre.

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