“Only the Lonely”, the 1991 film directed by Chris Columbus, is the story of Danny Muldoon (John Candy), a 38-year-old Chicago cop still living with his mother Rose, (Maureen O’Hara). No matter how he tries to untangle the apron strings, Mama Rose just keeps hitching more knots of guilt into them. Problem is, he loves his mother and feels responsible for her.
He could barely set foot out of the house while off-duty without his mother hitting him with some dire scenario because he’s left her all alone. This constant psychological badgering propels him into horror fantasies of Mom dying in a home invasion, a robbery gone wrong, crashes on the highway. And, of course, he thinks, it would be all his fault.
Hitting him with her rolling pin of love/guilt was bad enough when he just wanted to go to a ballgame with his cop buddy, Sal. But when he wanted to go on a date with a real live female-woman-girl, the horror that came over Mama Rose’s face was priceless. You’d think he had been possessed by a demonatrix from the lower pits of Hell. Oh, and watching Maureen O’Hara in action [she came out of retirement to do this movie], is indescribable. You just gotta see for yourself. I hated Mama Rose to the point I wanted to boil her down into a bubbling dark goo and pour her in a bottle of cod liver oil
For the first time in years, Danny has dared to ask a girl out on a date. She’s shy and reclusive Theresa Luna (Allie Sheely), who makes up the faces of the deceased in her father’s funeral parlor. Her dream is to be a make-up artist for movie stars and practices on the stiffs. When one has a resemblance to a certain celebrity, she turns the likeness into one that’s more pronounced. And the families love it.
“Only the Lonely” mirrors many families where one person does all the giving while another goes on with his life. Kevin Dunn plays Danny’s younger brother Patrick, who has gone on to have a career, a wife, children, nice home, all due to Danny’s generous and loving heart. But Patrick shares no brotherly kinship in that respect, always encouraging Danny to continue to take care of their mother and discouraging his new found hope for love himself.
The Muldoon neighbor, Nick (Anthony Quinn), is in love with the widowed Irish Rose, and takes every opportunity to woo the prickly colleen. For a stolen kiss he gets slapped. When he tries to intervene on Danny’s behalf she turns on him like a tiger at bay and growls, “Who died and left you an opinion?”
Now, lest you think — what’s so funny about this? You’ve got to take into account the one-liners, the dialogue, and John Candy’s straight performance, aided and abetted by James Belushi, for one. Although Candy is no Brad Pit, he is tender and loving and I had no problem seeing him in this lead romantic role. Belushi, who plays his partner in blue, Sal, designates himself as Danny boy’s courtship guru. Sal could have written a manual on what not to do to keep a girl.
To make a good comedy/romance, it has to start with something viewers can relate to in the real world. We’ve all heard jokes that, while they make us laugh, they make us think, too. This film about an overbearing mother, and a son trapped in the twisted loop of love and guilt, made me laugh and cry, often at the same time.
In this film, the late John Candy steps away from “just comedy”, and turns in a powerful dramatic performance as a very lonely man, torn between his duty and his future. Neither does he let down his audience as the romantic lead. A very good movie, indeed. You might want to put it on your calendar for Valentine’s week.