Finding true love via Ouija board and rushing off to Italy on the eve of one’s wedding sounded both tantalizing and exhilarating when I watched this movie as a young teenager in 1994. Twenty years later, I’m disinclined to tempt fate via a board game and think that bailing on your big day is rash and juvenile. Only You does such a good job of buying into its own story – and the actors an even better job of selling it, however, that I eventually tossed away the cynicism and abandoned myself to the loftiest ideas of romance.
It takes some convincing though since Faith (Marisa Tomei) is a poster child for irrational dreamers. She’s the girl who devoured Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters before she was sixteen but who, ten years later, still believes that reality and fiction are one in the same when it comes to matters of the heart. The aptly named Faith thinks she’s found her Darcy in podiatrist Dwayne (John Benjamin Hickey), but the absence of feisty quarreling between the two suggests otherwise.
When she gets a call from one Damon Bradley, she suddenly recognizes the name as that of her future husband – the one predicted to her in high school by a Ouija board and a carnival gypsy. Mr. Bradley explains that he’s off to Italy, and she decides right then that she must fly there too, wedding be damned. She drags along her best friend and sister-in-law, Kate (Bonnie Hunt), and without telling either of their significant others, they land in Venice, ready to start their Italian adventure.
Their utter lack of planning makes it difficult to locate the elusive Damon Bradley, even if it does allow for some amusing American abroad comedy. Faith and Kate give chase through various cities and eventually close in on their target, thanks more to liberal 1990s privacy practices than to their own resourcefulness. Fortunes at last change when Faith literally bumps into a character played by Robert Downey, Jr. There’s not much more I can divulge without spoiling the plot, except to say that there’s more than one case of mistaken identity and that the two spend the remainder of the film in each other’s company, quarrelling in a most Lizzie and Darcy-esque manner.
The whole premise is preposterous and all the characters are pretty damn desperate. But that’s what makes this a perfect romantic comedy. In this hyper-romantic reality, the wackiness adds to the fantasy that love is sometimes this crazy, or at least it should be. Besides Faith and unnamed RDJ character, Kate also finds herself succumbing to the charms of a dashing local (Joaquim de Almeida), leading her to question her marriage to her poker and beer-loving roofer husband (Fisher Stevens).
Much of the magic lies in the cast, who don’t ham it up but do buy into the emotional antics of their characters. Hunt is the perfect sidekick, and I’ve long been a fan of her Midwestern plain-spokenness. It’s a quality she puts to good use as Faith’s confidant, enabler, and voice of reason. Tomei is also at her best, a swooning but delightful mess of a woman who just wants love to be everything it’s cracked up to be. Her partner, meanwhile, is not as skittish, but Downey, Jr. displays a fevered devotion that matches his trademark wit. Together, the two share a radiant chemistry that will make you wish you dance with your lover under the Italian moonlight too.
Trailer contains spoilers!
“Once in a Lifetime” – theme song by Michael Bolton
Prod: Robert N. Fried, Norman Jewison, Charles Mulvehill, Cary Woods
Dir: Norman Jewison
Writer: Diane Drake
Cast: Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey, Jr., Bonnie Hunt, Joaquim de Almeida, Fisher Stevens, Billy Zane, Siobhan Fallon, John Benjamin Hickey, Adam LeFevre, Phyllis Newman
Time: 115 min
Lang: English, Italian
Country: United States