Picks and Pans Review: Only the Lonely

updated 05/27/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/27/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

John Candy, Maureen O'Hara, Ally Sheedy

Add a few laughs to the 1955 classic Marty, about two plain, shy people finding romance, and you have this sweet, quietly appealing film.

Candy, much more subdued than usual, is a bachelor cop in Chicago who lives with his subtly henpecking mother, O'Hara. He hasn't had a date in nine months when he meets the pathologically introverted Sheedy, who is a cosmetician in her father's funeral parlor, making up the faces of the deceased to resemble old movie stars.

The romance is complicated by O'Hara's possessiveness, Candy's guilt and the fact that Sheedy is Italian and Polish, two among the many ethnic groups O'Hara is prejudiced against.

Writer-director Chris (Home Alone) Columbus's script often resembles a lame sitcom: "My eyes are perfect." "Then why are you pouring orange juice in your coffee?" Moreover, the plot's will-they-or-won't-they aspect goes back and forth too many times.

But Candy and Sheedy effectively bat wide eyes at each other, and O'Hara, in her first film in two decades, is spectacularly enjoyable. Her part—a waspish, bitter woman—is not always an attractive one, yet she and Columbus make the mother into an ultimately sympathetic character. (A priest tells her, "I know you realize it's the '90s. I just don't know if you realize it's the 1990s.") And in addition to spicing up this film, O'Hara's performance arouses most pleasant memories of the dignity, strength and beauty she brought to such movies as How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, The Quiet Man and Rio Grande.

The film also contains edifying little parts for Anthony Quinn, as a rascally Greek neighbor with a crush on O'Hara, James Belushi, as Candy's partner, and the Chicago skyline, as picturesque decoration.

While the ending isn't romantically eloquent enough to satisfy real softies, it has a cute twist. And, in giving a—shall we say—full-figured actor a chance to get the girl, Columbus has overcome Hollywood's weightist taboo. Now if someone would make a film where Kevin Costner ends up with a 280-lb. woman, we'll know we are in a truly enlightened age. (PG-13)

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