On the recent podcast Patrick and I did on The Fugitive, I listed my ten favorite Chicago movies and Only the Lonely was my dark horse #5 pick. In retrospect, it should have been a little bit higher. F This Movie! listener Kunider left a comment that he wanted to hear my thoughts on Only the Lonely, which was a real gift because it gave me an excuse to re-watch this beautiful, old-fashioned romantic comedy and write about it.
I have a fondness for this movie for many reasons, but the silliest one is that it was a movie I turned down seeing during its release. Growing up, I got a birthday movie every year from my parents. I could choose to see anything playing in theaters (or anything not rated R in the case of May 1991 when Only the Lonely came out). Looking back at my options, I could have chosen Only the Lonely, What About Bob?, Soapdish, F/X 2, Mannequin Two: On the Move…but no, I had to see Drop Dead Fred. I deservedly got shit for that choice for many years. How in G-D’s name did I go with Drop Dead Fred? And how in G-D’s name did Only the Lonely and Backdraft (another of my favorite Chicago movies) open on the same day? We were spoiled in the summer of 1991. Except for Drop Dead Fred. Movie Math: Freddy’s Dead > Drop Dead Fred. Same studio. Same year. Think about that.
Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of Only the Lonely is Candy’s self-imposed martyrdom. He (like me in a past relationship) is trying to negotiate happiness between two sides (his family and his significant other) who do not like each other. By trying to make both happy all the time, he is making neither side (or himself) happy. It’s an extremely painful position to be in and all sides get hurt. Only the Lonely is, if nothing else, about Danny getting the fortitude to take a stand in one direction.
Dogfight, starring River Phoenix) and much of the reason I’m rooting so hard for Candy in this film to find love is because I can’t separate him from his character. His relationship with Sheedy feels like one on borrowed time and one I need to see succeed, if only briefly. Luckily, Candy was married for many years off-screen and had children, so the movie isn’t too biographical, but anyone who’s read about John Candy, the man, can infer he was like Danny Muldoon – a sweet soul with a share of melancholy behind the laughs.
I’m maybe making Only the Lonely sound like a drag, which it’s not, so let’s switch gears. It’s a beautiful, sunny movie about normal people that doesn’t shame them for being normal. The early-'90s Chicago setting exhibits the neighborhood feel I love about the city. It’s a great town with a lot of wonderful people who celebrate their heritage. Only the Lonely is a very pro-Irish culture film and I love it for that, just like I love Deli Man for celebrating Jewish culture or the My Big Fat Greek Wedding films for their “Greek is Great” position. Movies like those are prey to falling into stereotypes, but if they come from a place of affection and experience, why is that a bad thing? If anything, it gives a movie like Only the Lonely extra dimension than a more “Michigan Ave” Chicago romance might not have. I’ll also love the movie forever and ever because Danny and Theresa’s first date is at old Comiskey Park. The new ballpark opened in 1991, but while director Chris Columbus and team were filming Only the Lonely they got access to use the old one because the 1990 season had ended and old Comiskey Park was due for imminent demolition. It’s a scene I love because it lets me see a beautiful field view of a ballpark I only went to a few times (I mostly started going to Sox games in the 1991 season at the new Comiskey) and because the old Comiskey being set for destruction is like this interesting little metaphor for Danny’s status. His old way of life is about to be destroyed and it’s time for him to find a new home. And if I needed another reason to love Only the Lonely even more, it ends with a stop in the fictional Willoughby, of which fans of the “A Stop in Willoughby” episode of the 1960s Twilight Zone series will understand the significance.