“High Fidelity” memorably opens with John Cusack’s Rob Gordon looking directly into the camera and wondering: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or am I miserable because I listened to pop music?” I have long suspected my own life could be viewed as a variation of this query. As in, “Did I watch movies because I was a romantic? Or am I a romantic because I watched movies?”
The characters at the heart of Norman Jewison’s whimsy-infused 1994 old-fashioned rom com “Only You” have clearly watched other rom coms because we see them acting out the infamous scene from the infamous “Roman Holiday” in which Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn visit the Mouth of Truth. Did they watch “Roman Holiday” because they were romantics? Or were they romantics because they watched “Roman Holiday”?
When my sister visited me last month she partook in my annual viewing of my beloved “Serendipity” – a ludicrous but lovely (to me) film centered entirely around matters of fate and destiny – and this made her wonder if I had seen “Only You.” I confessed I had not and my sister expressed her bewilderment, essentially indicating that Marisa Tomei’s character was like Kate Beckinsale’s character in “Serendipity” taken up a notch. At which point I immediately threw “Only You” into the Netflix queue and moved it to the #1 spot. You had me at “Kate Beckinsale’s in ‘Serendipity’ character taken up a notch.”
Tomei, exuding a kind of hard-headed effervescence, plays the “subtly” named Faith, engaged to be married to a considerate but vanilla doctor (podiatrist) in a week’s time. She seems okay with it, until a friend of her fiancé calls to advise he cannot make the wedding and indicates his name to be Damon Bradley. See, when Faith was a precocious six, a Ouija Board proclaimed her future husband would be named Damon Bradley and a fortune teller backed this up. She has waited her whole life to find this Damon Bradley and here he is. And so she and her sister-in-law Kate (Bonnie Hunt) give chase in an epic but epically scenic journey that takes them from Venice to Rome to the Amalfi Coast.
Perhaps it is a spoiler to say that Faith does meet Damon Bradley, although Damon Bradley may not be as much Mr. (W)Right as a romantic bloke named Peter played charmingly by Robert Downey Jr. is, but it is a spoiler of an 18 year variety which means it is in peak condition and so it cannot be withheld any longer. Ah, but as with any com worth its rom it is less about the rivelazione than breathing in the aroma of the way the rivelazione is set up and produced. For instance, is Faith, at the end of this arduous journey, finally going to say “I do”? You bet she is, but the way in which she says it is so unexpected and so sweet and so sincere, and the place that she says it and what it leads to and how it is sumptuously calibrated to shine on a light on the differences between American and Italian ideals, is perfect. And whether these differences are exaggerated or not, well, does not matter so much – and perhaps it should not matter so much since so many romantics themselves tend to exaggerate.
Indeed, that is how Peter proves himself worthy of Faith – he is just as insistently nuts as she is.