Hoch now, it’s Burl with a review for all the lonely people! Where do you all come from? Ha ha, just a little Beatles reference for you, but it should be said that the picture under review today is less a Beatles-type movie and more of a Roy Orbison joint! At least that’s where the title and the opening credits music comes from, and of course we can be talking about no other photoplay than Only the Lonely! (Ha ha, actually we could be talking about Pretty Woman or In Dreams, but nope, not this time!)
John Candy, so well known and loved from his roles in The Silent Partner and Volunteers and The Great Outdoors and many more, is Danny Muldoon, a Chicago cop who, alongside a partner played by Jim Belushi of Trading Places fame, has the job of transporting dangerous felons and also, mainly it seems, carrying away the dead bodies from the crime scenes! (The picture only very slightly explores the potential psycho-emotional ramifications of such a job, and there I think it might have missed a bet, although one scene is dedicated to plumbing its comic potential!)
Danny is a big friendly fellow who’s devoted to his mother, but not quite in a Norman Bates-y sort of way – though you can tell the relationship might be headed in that direction if allowed to fester, ha ha! Mother is played by flame-haired Maureen O’Hara, whom we recall from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, and who was here returning to pictures after a twenty-year absence; and it must be said that she hadn’t lost a step over that two decades of whatever it was she was doing instead of acting! And of course Mother is perfectly happy for her son to while his life away in service to her, and for his social life to comprise entirely of trips to the pub with her to hang out with Doyle and Spats, two barfly buddies nicely played by Milo O’Shea from The Purple Rose of Cairo and Theatre of Blood, and Bert Remsen from McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Lies!
There’s also a younger Muldoon brother, Patrick, essayed by Kevin Dunn of Marked for Death and Godzilla, and he’s the one who went to law school and got married and had kids (one of whom is that rapscallion Macauley Culkin, ha ha), and who catches a well-deserved punching from Danny in one of the picture’s more dramatic moments! But the big transformation in Danny’s life comes when he meets funeral home assistant Theresa Luna, played by Ally Sheedy from Blue City! She’s shy and mousy and can’t get dates because of her job, but of course to Danny, who handles corpses for a living, that’s no problem! Ha ha, her death-centric career notwithstanding, as someone who had a pretty big crush on Sheedy in the 1980s I did find it a bit unbelievable that Ms. Luna couldn’t get dates!
Mother, meantime, is an old-school bigot who seems to hate just about everyone who isn’t Irish – we hear all about her anti-Italian, and in particular anti-Sicilian, prejudices, and thanks to an amorous neighbour played by Anthony Quinn from The Guns of Navarone, we learn of her anti-Greek opinions as well! Of course she has many lilting objections when Theresa comes on the scene! As Danny and Theresa get closer, she becomes so desperate that she consults a “Polack priest” played by Marvin J. McIntyre from Fandango, who has no time for her nonsense! “I know you realize it’s the nineties, Mrs. Muldoon,” he tells her! “I’m just not sure you realize it’s the nineteen-nineties!”
So that’s the conflict: Danny is devoted to Mother and is constantly stopped in his tracks by alarming fantasies in which she meets a violent doom thanks to his distractedness; while Mother continues being nasty and spiteful and racist (we never hear her thoughts on, say, Jewish and Black people, which is probably for the best); and Theresa, for her part, quickly gets tired of her beau’s mommy fixation! The picture doesn’t always go exactly where you think it will with these dynamics, and that’s refreshing, though Sheedy’s character does seem to overcome her alarming shyness in unrealistically quick order! Candy is very much in Uncle Buck mode here, and one could argue that the performances are too similar, but on close inspection I found him to have an array of subtle techniques for individuating the two characters! So I feel grateful to Only the Lonely for helping me better appreciate the big man’s craft, an appreciation that I will admit took a hit after I saw JFK!
I watched the picture because I like Candy (ha ha, who doesn’t!) and want especially to see all the movies he starred it, with the possible exception of his final bow, Wagons East!, but frankly I wasn’t expecting much! It was a little better than I thought it would be, however, and while not particularly memorable and featuring too many instances of Candy's catch phrase "It's good to be a cop," it’s a solid showcase for the big man and demonstrates how good he could have been had he survived into his later years! (Ha ha, imagine his Lear!) Still, I wish the movie was better, and that it had a bit more pep and humour and grit and real complication! It’s not much more than a pale copy of Marty, but, mainly thanks to the cast, enjoyable enough while it’s on, and so I give Only the Lonely two breakfasts in bed!