A 1950s-set comedy in which the glamorous Anne Deveraux (Zellweger)
embarks on a drive down the Eastern Seaboard in a quixotic search for a
wealthy man to fund a new life for her and her sons.

Zellwegger hits her straps as a '50s femme on a mission.

A paradox lies at the core of steadfastly sweet-natured Anne Devereaux, and Renee Zellwegger reveals it in one of the very first scenes of Richard Loncraine’s utterly delightful '50s-set road trip drama, My One And Only. From that moment on, every backward step of her determinedly hopeful journey is a joy to share with her.

When she surprises her husband Dan (Kevin Bacon), a band-leader with one hit song and a weakness for hatcheck girls, Anne straightens her shoulders, helps his latest conquest find her clothes, ushers her out, then calmly packs her own belongings. She leaves Dan, but not in a flurry of resentful theatrics. Zellwegger’s Anne entertains his pleadings, gives him a disappointed look, and is gone, to reclaim her life.

It is a terrific piece of film-acting from Zellwegger, who has struggled of late to find the right vehicle for her onscreen persona. Her last couple of films, the rom-com New in Town, and the supernatural thriller, Case 39, were awful; George Clooney’s Leatherheads was a noble misfire; a strong support part in Ed Harris’ fine western, Appaloosa, went unseen. But when she fully inhabits a character, she becomes a tiny woman with a towering screen presence, and Anne Devereaux may be her best work yet.

Richard Loncraine, the British-born filmmaker who is also coming off two duds (Wimbledon and Firewall ), has executed his best work in the company of strong female characters, talented actresses and stories exploring the intricacies of love (notably, The Gathering Storm, with Vanessa Redgrave, and My House in Umbria, with Maggie Smith). My One and Only is the most richly-textured work of his stop-start career and displays a previously-untapped flair for warm, evocative period detail and breezy but profound drama.

Having left Dan, Anne collects her teenage children – the handsome and talented George (Logan Lerman) and the flamboyant Robbie (Mark Rendall) – and begins her journey from swinging New York into America’s heartland. Her first goal is still a traditionally 1950s one – she needs to find a new husband, to help care for her boys and provide a stable family life. But, despite the warm affection afforded her by the strong, silent younger man Bud (Nick Stahl), Anne’s luck turns from bad to worse: she is robbed by her old friend Wallace (Steven Weber) whilst dining with him; she marries but clashes terribly with career militarist Harlan (Chris Noth); encounters with shallow past-love Charlie (Eric McCormack) and mentally-disturbed polygamist Bill (a very funny David Koechner) further erode her never-say-die attitude. When mistaken for a hotel-lobby hooker, she does a night in county lock-up.

When George decides to stay with Anne’s sister Hope (Robin Wiegert) rather than traverse the countryside, aimlessly, the destruction of the family unit seems complete. But a turnaround of fortunes and the lure of Hollywood reunites the clan; the City of Dreams offers a new start for all three, especially George (the story is based on the life of actor George Hamilton, who is the film’s executive producer).

There is a great deal about My One and Only that is unashamedly old-fashioned: The muted soft focus of Marco Pontecorvo’s lensing; the adherence to polite conformity and social graces in the lovely character interactions and dialogue of Charlie Peters script (his first since the failure of his 1998 Jude Law vehicle, Music from Another Room); even the reliance upon the belief that dreams can still come true in Hollywood. Young actors Lerman (showing how good he can be after fumbling the lead in the forgettable Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief) and the scene-stealing Rendall represent the stirring of thoughtful teen angst that would dominate Western culture in the decade to follow; Bacon makes Dan’s fall-from-grace poignant and sad, despite his immoral weaknesses.

But it is Zellwegger and director Loncraine who make everything old seem new again. The next time someone bemoans 'They just don’t make 'em like they used to," buy them a ticket to My One and Only. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they make them better.


1 hour 47 min
In Cinemas 11 March 2010,