Fresh off the success of Home Alone, the team of John Hughes (producer) and Chris Columbus (director and now screenwriter as well) have collaborated on a romantic comedy that feels like a paint-by-numbers throwback to the ’50s. The film is a virtual remake of Marty (1955), the laboriously winsome Paddy Chayefsky fable in which Ernest Borgnine, in an Oscar-winning performance, played a schlubby Bronx butcher who finds love in a dance hall. Only the Lonely, too, is a tale of sweet-souled urban misfits. John Candy plays Danny Muldoon, a cheery Chicago police officer who’d love to meet a nice girl and settle down. Ally Sheedy is the pretty, introverted mortuary cosmetician who’d love to settle down with him. What could possibly get in the way? Simple: Danny still lives with his clinging Irish mum (Maureen O’Hara). A widow, she doesn’t want to give him up — and, more to the point, he doesn’t quite want to give her up.
Framed as a boy-meets-girl love story, the movie is really about the nagging romance between a ”good” Irish-Catholic son and the mother who’s guilt-tripped him into taking the place of her late husband. Candy has been stuck in so many one-note comedies that it’s nice to see a movie that tries to tap the three-dimensional empathy he had in Splash. And O’Hara, returning to the screen after nearly 20 years, plays the domineering Rose with savage comic gusto. Mrs. Muldoon is a cheapskate, a racist, and a woman who denies her own instincts. She keeps putting off her amorous next-door neighbor (Anthony Quinn) because he’s Greek, and she’ll willingly ruin her son’s life rather than be left alone. Yet as O’Hara plays her, this monstrous mom has fire and soul; that’s why Danny can’t let go of her apron strings. The performers keep you watching (Candy, I’m convinced, could be a fine dramatic actor), yet the movie itself is a thin procession of clichés. Columbus doesn’t stage scenes so much as the ideas for scenes. The actors don’t have a chance to show any spontaneity. Sheedy’s Theresa falls for Danny virtually overnight, and for no other reason than the fact that he’s courtly and sweet. At one point, someone describes Theresa as being ”plain,” which only makes you wonder if the filmmakers are kidding. Ally Sheedy, plain? The reality, of course, is that it’s meant to warm our souls that a big-hearted butterball like Danny could land someone as lovely as Sheedy. If only we could believe it. C