At the start of “My One and Only,” Anne Devereaux (Renée Zellweger) comes home to her Manhattan apartment to find her husband in bed with another woman. But she doesn’t cry, or raise her voice, or even register the slightest shock. Instead, she picks up the other woman’s clothing from the ground and helps her get dressed. Minutes later she has purchased a Cadillac and is on her way to Boston with her two sons to rediscover love and, along the way, something of herself.
It doesn’t take long for Anne Devereaux to realize that the dating landscape has changed since her 20s. Visiting a series of old flames, she finds that men who once pursued her have directed their attentions elsewhere; they’re married, interested in younger women, or even psychotic. Though her idealism wanes slightly with every bad man she encounters, she holds on to her original optimism, constantly reminding her sons that “things will always work out in the end.”
The plot involves numerous commonplace elements—a cheating spouse, a soul-searching roadtrip, a quest for love, a mid-life crisis. Even the setting evokes a certain familiarity: 1950s romanticism, a jazz soundtrack, pastel cardigans, and a preponderance of dinner parties. But surprisingly, the film transcends the clichés it employs by the grace of excellent acting and surprising directorial choices.
Renée Zellweger makes a convincing heroine. At 40, she has proven she can play a wide range of roles, yet she always infuses her characters with personal idiosyncrasies. Much like Meryl Streep, Zellweger is never unrecognizable; she carries certain gestures and habits from movie to movie. She purses her lips while crying; the outer edges of her eyebrows elevate when she smiles; she speaks slowly and almost reluctantly. After nearly two decades of these mannerisms, she could be accused of simply mimicking herself role after role, but this is never the case. Rather, Zellweger doesn’t need any radical physical transformation to inhabit her roles.
British director Richard Loncraine—who previously directed film adaptations of Shakespeare and a made for TV movie about Winston Churchill—allows Zellweger to flourish in a quieter, more formal movie than she is accustomed to. His prior academic studies of sculpture seem influential in his directorial style; every shot of his is remarkably crafted. His frames are horizontal and narrow; the top of each seems to barely avoid truncating the upper limits of the scene, creating a kind of uncomfortable intimacy for the viewer. The camera shots are still and never shift focus from the characters, allowing the viewer to take in the precise symmetry of the scenes and precluding any sense of detachment. Bricks, fences, and roads often form patterns of strong lines behind the actors, but this never seems forced.
The only drawback to his directorial affectation is that it’s, inevitably, just that. While the scenes are always artfully composed, some diversity in filming might shift the focus from directorial sleight to more engaging storytelling.
The movie suffers at times from other shortcomings, but they aren’t significant enough to displace its much more noticeable successes. Devereaux’s sons—George, who narrates the film, and Robbie—are underdeveloped as characters. They toss out stock adolescent protests like “You don’t even know me” from time to time, but their main role is on their mother’s coattails. The plot itself is supposed to be at least loosely based on the childhood of perennially bronzed Hollywood has-been George Hamilton, but this could easily escape the average viewer’s notice. These blemishes are also negligible, as the movie truly belongs to Zellweger and to her odyssey.
Like most American sojourns, the characters end up in Los Angeles, west of where they started. Their experience has been distinctly bittersweet, and the accomplishment of their goals ambiguous. “My One and Only” may be a variation on many common Hollywood tales, but its conclusion strays from the pack, ushering in heartfelt contemplation rather than oversimplified resolution.