Norman Jewison tries to revive some of the “Moonstruck” magic, via a side trip through “Sleepless in Seattle,” in “Only You.” A puff of a romantic comedy set in a storybook Italy and populated by characters who believe in pursuing their amorous destinies as long as it involves staying in five-star hotels, handsomely turned-out trifle has a healthy dose of highly calculated commercial appeal, especially to those who are ready to swallow cornball romance without worrying about excess sweets. But the real B.O. story will rest upon whether topliners Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr., both previously successful mainly as supporting names, are capable of opening and sustaining a picture.
With acknowledged bows to “Roman Holiday,” as well as to “South Pacific,” this impossibly romantic concoction has two main characters who believe in “the stars and the moon” and who chase across some of the world’s most picturesque scenery and fabled cityscapes because of their commitment to the idea that there’s one true soulmate out there just made to match up with them. An enthusiastic sales pitch for hanging onto your dream until you find it, as well as one giant valentine to Italy, film serves up enough mildly amusing situational comedy along the way to keep general audiences engaged. But sophisticated it’s not.
Quick prologue establishes the premise that drives first-time screenwriter Diane Drake’s story: As a child, Faith is informed by both a Ouija board and a fortuneteller that her man of destiny will be named Damon Bradley. Fourteen years later, Faith (Tomei) hasn’t forgotten this prediction but has
also become realistic. A Pittsburgh schoolteacher, she’s set to marry straight-and-narrow podiatrist Dwayne (John Benjamin Hickey) in 10 days when an old friend of Dwayne’s calls in his regrets for not being able to attend the wedding, since he’s leaving for Venice that very day. Oh yes, his name is Damon Bradley.
Faith immediately spins into orbit at this and rushes to the airport with best friend Kate (Bonnie Hunt). Latter is unhappy in her long-term marriage, suspecting that hubby Larry (Fisher Stevens) is fooling around, so she decides to fly to Italy with Faith to get away.
Checking first at the Hotel Danieli in Venice, pair proceed through San Gimignano and on to Rome, where through a mix-up and a lie, Faith comes to believe that a friendly Yank (Downey) is Damon Bradley. Faith is delirious over having met the object of her eternal desire, while through the course of “Some Enchanted Evening” (pic’s repeated theme song), “Damon” falls in love with her.
By morning, the smitten young man has to admit that he’s not who he said he was, but is actually named Peter. Furious and disappointed, Faith decides to return to Pittsburgh and keep her wedding date, even though Kate is now making time with a local Romeo named Giovanni (Joaquim De Almeida). After protracted arguments to the effect that it shouldn’t matter what his name is, Peter realizes that the only way he can keep Faith in the country, and his chances alive, is to help her find the real Damon and hope for the best.
They head down the coast for the stunning seaside town of Positano, where another possible Damon Bradley is found in the hunky form of Billy Zane, who wines and dines Faith as Peter agonizingly looks on. Road has a couple more twists before the anticipated feel-good ending.
Jewison knows exactly where the laugh and welling-up buttons are that will hook the audience into this middle-class fairy-tale-come-true, and has smartly cast it with engaging personalities. Cast at least partly for her Audrey Hepburn gamin quality, Tomei comes on a little strong for some tastes, but her enthusiasm and ordinary-gal quality will get most viewers rooting for her.
Downey is spirited and winning in one of the more conventional roles he’s played to date, displaying both his quicksilver inventiveness and hangdog self-deprecation. As the wilted housewife brought back to full bloomby a little Latin loving, Hunt has most of the good lines and delivers them with expert timing. De Almeida is all charm and smooth moves, and Stevens and Zane both make the most of brief roles.
Productionwise, pic looks to have been one of the choice crew assignments in recent times, with the fabulous locations caught in peak season. Sven Nykvist’s lensing, heavy on travelogue, bathes the exquisite settings, and Luciana Arrighi’s production design, in rosy warmth. Rachel Portman’s able score is abetted by any number of standard and classical tunes.