Only the Lonely (1991)

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Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Chris Columbus

Rated PG-13

John Candy as Officer Danny Muldoon
Maureen O’Hara as Rose Muldoon
Ally Sheedy as Theresa Luna
Anthony Quinn as Nick Acropolis
James Belushi as Officer Sal Buonarte
Kevin Dunn as Patrick Muldoon
Macaulay Culkin as Billy Muldoon
Kieran Culkin as Patrick Muldoon, Jr.
Milo O’Shea as Doyle
Bert Remsen as Spats

What a delightful movie. I have seen it many times, and it never hesitates to make me smile. The film is essentially an update of 1955’s Oscar-winning film Marty. John Candy is the hero, a Chicago cop named Danny Muldoon. He is single, and he still lives at home with his widowed mother, Rose (Maureen O’Hara). Rose has a strong Irish personality, and she always speaks her mind, never taking any prisoners.

Enter Theresa Luna (Ally Sheedy), the shy and introverted cosmetician at a local funeral home. Danny and Theresa have a meet-cute at an Irish pub, and Danny musters the courage to ask Theresa on a date. The scene where Danny asks Theresa for a date is sweet, inspired, and entirely believable. Rose senses Danny’s growing affection for Theresa, and she feels threatened.

Danny’s attempt to introduce Rose and Theresa is a disaster, especially when Rose discovers that not only is Theresa not Irish, she part Sicilian, part Polish. Being a romantic comedy, Danny and Theresa will inevitably fall in love, and his mother will vocalize her uncensored objections.

The outline of the film is predictable, but the outcome is anything but. Candy has never been more charming and endearing than he is in this role. Gone is the silly slapstick that for so long defined his comic career. Instead, Candy expresses the insecurities of an overweight, lovelorn man will aplomb. Danny is in love with Theresa, but he’s out of practice, so he does some stumbling. Danny also loves his mother; his brother (Kevin Dunn) is a lawyer with a family of his own, and we learn Danny became a cop, sacrificing his dreams because the family could only afford to send one son to school. We see Danny’s dilemma, and it is relatable and poignant. Don’t get me wrong; Candy is plenty funny here, too. The scene where he tries to cook for Theresa is a riot. This is one of Candy’s best performances, right up there with Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), maybe even better.

O’Hara had not made a film since 1972’s acclaimed TV-movie The Red Pony when Only the Lonely was released. Writer-director Chris Columbus penned the role of Rose especially for O’Hara, and she doesn’t miss a beat. The first film after a 20-year retirement is a multi-layered triumph. Her performance is perfect, and it is one of highlights in a film with so many. Sheedy is also not the first actress that comes to mind when thinking of a shy introvert. Sheedy is a gifted comedienne, and she is just as adept in this against type role. I found Theresa adorable, and she is exactly the kind of person to open up to the big-hearted softie that makes her smile, even when he interrupts her work at the funeral parlor.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Anthony Quinn as Rose’s smitten Greek neighbor, and Belushi – being so Jim Belushi – as Danny’s wacky partner.

Only the Lonely is an old-fashioned romantic comedy with lots of heart, lots of laughs, and improbable casting that proves chemistry sometimes exists in the most unlikely places.

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