It’s still fairly early in December to be getting into full-on Christmas mode yet, so I went looking for a film that had only a loose association with Christmas. What I found was Only You, a romantic comedy from 1992, directed by Betty Thomas. This was Thomas’s feature film directorial debut, and looking at her credits afterward, it might be the high point; what follows runs from Howard Stern’s film Private Parts to Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, with a few Eddie Murphy remakes in-between.
Only You stars Andrew McCarthy during what might have been the peak of his own career, at least of the post-“Brat Pack” years. Which is to say, it was made after Weekend at Bernie’s and before Weekend at Bernie’s II. McCarthy plays Cliff Godfrey, a well-paid dollhouse designer for a major toy company. He has plans to take his fiancee on a trip to a tropical island for Christmas, but when he calls her to tell her he’ll pick her up, he gets a message from one of her friends instead. She isn’t there, she won’t be there. He’s been dumped.
Turns out there is a more cold-hearted way to dump someone than leaving a message on their answering machine.
We never see Cliff’s ex-fiancee in person (she’s shown in a Christmas card), and we don’t need to; we see what the problem is very early on. As Cliff’s friend Marty (Daniel Roebuck) notes, Cliff keeps going for flash, not substance. He craves an emotional attachment, but he keeps seeking it in “perfect 10” cover models instead of looking for someone who genuinely shares his interests and has a compatible personality. And he gets attached very easily. Facing a Christmas with It’s a Wonderful Life on every channel, and having been told his tickets are non-refundable, he goes to drown his frustration, misery, and anger at the local bar. There he meets Amanda (Kelly Preston), a beautiful blonde who has just been dumped by her boyfriend. Seems he had the audacity to realize he really did love his wife of 11 years. Cliff falls for the flighty but glamorous Amanda quickly, and convinces her to go with him on his trip. But once there, she quickly starts neglecting him, while he finds himself in the company of a travel agency photographer named Claire (Helen Hunt), who asks him to help her put together a brochure she’s making. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, he finds himself spending more time with Claire as Amanda keeps going off to spend time with other guys.
The plot is as predictable as a romantic comedy can be; every aspect of the relationships is easy to see coming simply from the personalities of the three main characters. In fact, it’s not hard to guess just from the poster. But if the plot is obvious, it also has some merits to it. It isn’t done poorly, and there are some genuine laughs along the way — not “romantic comedy” laughs, but actual honest “comedy” laughs. These mostly come at Cliff’s expense, of course, and Andrew McCarthy does quite well as a guy who has his head in the clouds enough for these things to be somewhat believable. Kelly Preston isn’t exactly stretching her acting skills to play the vapid Amanda, but she fits the role perfectly. And Helen Hunt is charming, as usual, as Claire, who is mostly grounded but still just slightly quirky — and just a tad naive in her own right.
Who decides that a guy who just nearly drowned is a great choice for a brochure model?
One nice thing about the film is that despite its simplicity and by-the-numbers approach, it doesn’t insult the audience by pretending that Helen Hunt is a plain Jane. It doesn’t talk up her good looks, but it also doesn’t pull the common stunt of trying to mouse her up and then revealing her as “beautiful all along”. Rather it shows the contrast between Claire and Amanda as being primarily one of personality; both are attractive women, but Amanda has the “glam” factor that Cliff has always been looking for. And then it plays into the old meaning of the word “glamour”, in that it’s a beauty that ultimately is fake, showing that Amanda, while having cover girl looks, also has a personality that’s no deeper than a magazine cover.
Only You is a simple film, and a predictable one. It’s not one that people are likely to want to seek out and it’s likely to be forgotten with a few weeks of watching it. But while watching it, it is an inoffensive and reasonably fun romantic comedy that has a few good laughs along the way.