Friday, September 4, 2009

George Hamilton, the early years

Renee Zellweger displays her charms in My One and Only.

When you see My One and Only -- the surprisingly entertaining story of actor George Hamilton's early years -- you'll know why Hamilton often appears to be in such good humor. The reasons aren't obvious. Hamilton's dad philandered, and his mom engaged in serial marriages -- or attempts at them. As a teen-ager, Hamilton was uprooted from his Manhattan home the summer Mom told Dad she'd had enough of his wandering ways. From an early age, Hamilton must have learned to find the comedy in potentially disturbing situations. Maybe that's why My One and Only is as smooth as one of Hamilton's talk-show appearances and just as much fun. And, no, the real George Hamilton, who served as one of the film's executive producers, never appears.

Set during the 1950s, the movie begins when the young Hamilton (Logan Lerman) shows up at a Cadillac dealership to purchase a new car. He's a teen-ager, but he has more than $3,000 in his pocket. His mother (Renee Zellweger) gave him the money after announcing that George and his half-brother (Mark Rendall) would be leaving Dad's New York City apartment and accompanying her on a road trip.

Zellweger, who lost a lot of screen cred with the woeful comedy, New in Town, has found a role that suits her to a tee. Zellweger's Anne Deveraux is the kind of woman who knows how to get men to take care of her and she uses that skill until it just about wears out. Anne has problems, but she insists -- for no good reason -- that things will turn out well. Anne also knows that her skills as a parent are limited; she treats her sons more like traveling companions than offspring. She may not be the most responsible parent, but she doesn't seem to have a vindictive bone in her body.

In all, My One and Only is the kind of a movie that puts you at ease with its tasty small performances -- notably Kevin Bacon as Hamilton's philandering, bandleader father -- and its stylish evocation of the '50s.

Richard Loncraine, who directed, must have realized that My One and Only has no great lessons to teach, only an idiosyncratic story to tell about a very strange road trip. Better yet, the movie's dramatic moments don't undercut the enjoyment Loncraine wants to share with us. This is no parent-bashing confession of a wounded child, but a movie that displays affection for its characters -- flaws and all.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK.... The Starz FilmCenter this week offers The Windmill Movie, an autobiographical film about Richard P. Rogers, who taught filmmaking at SUNY Purchase and Harvard. Born into wealth, Rogers worked on his filmed autobiography for 25 years, but died before it was finished. Directed Alexander Olch, a former student, put the film together from Roger's footage. We watch with fascination as Rogers grapples with his own narcissism and with guilt engendered by a life of privilege. The movie opens with Rogers short film Quarry, which is terrific, and which I'm half tempted to say is enough to justify the price of admission.

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