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‘Only the Lonely’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1991

"Only the Lonely" is a wistful romance so determined to sweep us off our feet it fairly grunts with exertion. Of course, that isn't so easy when "Gremlins" and "Goonies" guy Chris Columbus is holding the broom. Nor does it help that the immovable love object is John Candy and the irresistible force Ally Sheedy's jawline. Cupid has to pack some serious heat to get Mutt and Jeff in the mood for amore.

Written and directed by Columbus, it is essentially a remake of Paddy Chayefsky's "Marty," the bittersweet story of a lonely mama's boy (Candy) who falls in love with the shy daughter of a mortician (Sheedy), thereby threatening his sicko relationship with his mother, Rose (Maureen O'Hara). What were they thinking? An outspoken bigot and a smothering shrew, Rose does everything she can to wither the budding relationship between her 37-year-old son, Danny Muldoon, and the Sicilian American Theresa. The wretched woman tests not only Theresa's slim resolve but her son's patience when she repeatedly derides his squeeze for her flat chest and her filthy ethnic background. Pushed to the limit, Theresa finds a new resilience within, yet Danny cannot break free of the destructive, controlling Rose.

Families simply don't come any more dysfunctional than the Muldoons. But Columbus, who last directed "Home Alone," twists this painful psychological triangle into a fairy tale. Certainly the Grimm Brothers came up with some amazingly dysfunctional families themselves, but this movie has an unmanageable duality. It's as if the wicked witch became the heroine in a Disney movie.

Returning to the screen after 20 years, O'Hara plays the obnoxious harridan all too well. She simply usurps the screen from Candy and Sheedy, so faint against her emerald's fire. Columbus, who based Rose on the character O'Hara played in "The Quiet Man," probably should have simply turned "Only the Lonely" into a vehicle for the venerable star. Here, the lovelorn couple seem only to be in the golden diva's way.

As it is, fans of Candy are expecting a John Candy movie -- that is, a reasonably hilarious comedy about a sweetly sympathetic bumbler. And while he is as cumbersomely lovable as a Saint Bernard puppy, he's rarely allowed to be funny here. He seems miserably uncomfortable as a romantic lead, or maybe it's just that he's playing opposite the Stepford Actress.

In any case, "Only the Lonely" is probably going to stay that way.

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