Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Only You (1994)

Director: Norman Jewison                            Writer: Diane Drake
Film Score: Rachel Portman                        Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Starring: Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey, Jr., Bonnie Hunt and John Benjamin Hickey

Sometimes old romcoms don’t age well, but this is one that holds up nicely. Only You has a nice cast, some interesting twists on the conventions and is ultimately satisfying. The one thing that can give some viewers pause is that, at the same time that the film strives for originality, it also is very liberal its references to romantic films of the past. The premise is that the eleven-year-old Marisa Tomei, playing on a Ouiji board with her brother, learns that her soul mate is someone named Damon Bradley. Years later, as a teacher, she is set to be married to John Benjamin Hickey and seems to be a bit tepid about the whole thing. Trying on her wedding dress with her sister-in-law, Bonnie Hunt, she gets an RSVP from a classmate of her fiancé named, wait for it, Damon Bradley.

On his way to Italy, Bradley hangs up on her and Tomei rushes to the airport, still in her wedding dress, to catch him. Of course she misses him, and heads to Italy herself, with Hunt in tow, to find the love she is destined to spend the rest of her life with. She tracks down Bradley in Venice, goes to the restaurant where is dining that night but, again, just misses him. Chasing his back down the winding streets, losing him in the crowd, she bumps into Robert Downey, Jr., but is too distracted by her fruitless chase to pay him much attention. Just as she and Hunt are getting into a cab, however, she learns that he is none other than Damon Bradley and spends a romantic night with him and falling head over heals for her soul mate.

But that’s just the start of this romantic adventure. Like every good romcom, there must be a falling out, and this one’s great. Screenwriter Diane Drake came up with a clever plot, especially when the action moves to Italy. She also references all kinds of romantic films from Casablanca to Roman Holiday, as well as using Louis Armstrong in the intro which came from When Harry Met Sally. I’m not sure this was absolutely necessary because they’re all kind of anomalies rather than a singular thematic element. Tomei is radiant, very much toned down from her Oscar winning performance in My Cousin Vinny and captivating on screen. Downey, Jr., like Leonardo DiCaprio, has improved tremendously with age. Here he seems a little callow and, ironically, knowing how commanding on screen he would become later in Sherlock Holmes actually helps his performance here.

Director Norman Jewison has had an incredibly eclectic directing resume, piloting films as diverse as In the Heat of the Night, The Thomas Crown Affair, and A Soldier’s Story. He does a terrific job here on location in Italy, and comes up with some interesting set-ups and backgrounds, and his direction of the actors seems entirely appropriate where some directors would let things go over the top. Only You is a good, solid cast that delivers a satisfying romantic comedy. Certainly it’s not the greatest romcom in the world, but it won’t disappoint.

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