It's so easy for period pieces to lose their humanness: actors taking a backseat to production design or seizing the moment to become swanning, affected lunatics from space (the past is an alien place, one can do whatever). In My One and Only, the actors do both.
It's 1953, and Anne Devereaux (Renée Zellweger, finally finding the correct use for her powdered peach-pit of a face) is an aging beauty, professional wife, and mother of two who leaves her philandering bandleader husband (
the Cryptkeeper Kevin Bacon) after coming home to one too many naked ladies in their marriage bed. Since she doesn't have any skills (you know us women!), she hops from city to city with the kids, looking for a new husband to feed her and compliment her and give her money and presents, so that she does not die in the streets or mess up her hairdo like a nonbeautiful person. The beaus she encounters are a rotating cast of deadbeat-male stereotypes: the broke loser, the violent control freak, the rapey one, the poor one, the married one.
My One and Only is sweet enough: The tailored '50s fashions fit Zellweger quite perfectly (and, oh, the hats!), and her small emotional journey (she discovers a flair for retail and learns that it's possible to exist while manless) is better than no emotional journey at all. Also delightful, the moment when one of Anne's better fiancés gives her son some fatherly advice: "There's only one thing you need to know about a woman: They're never the right temperature... So what you have to do is carry a sweater or a jacket with you at all times." This is true!
But the clichés run thicker than a super-thick paste made out of clichés. Anne's main son (there's another, secondary one, mostly for background gay silliness) is a Holden Caulfield–obsessed do-gooder who says things like "As much as my father's life relies upon improvisation, my mother's life is guided by a large number of aphorisms." And the philandering improviser says, "With my life on the road and all, I was never cut out to be a father." And the motherly aphorisms include, "Oh, never, never look in the rearview mirror, darling. It makes no difference what's behind you" (in reference to a literal rearview mirror, I might add). And then you're like, "Really, dialogue?!" and go back to just looking at the cute dresses.