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BERLIN (Reuters) - Renee Zellweger courts a bankrupt businessman, a cruel colonel and a deranged "serial matrimonialist" in a touching new comedy loosely based on the 1950s childhood of Hollywood actor George Hamilton.
Zellweger's character Ann Devereaux leaves her husband when she finds him in bed with another woman and takes her two sons on a road trip across America to find a suitable replacement.
Although Hamilton's experience as a 15-year-old was the starting point, much of the narrative of "My One And Only," during which the flamboyant but flawed mother buys a Cadillac and drives from city to city, is fictional.
At one point, Devereaux approaches a potential suitor at a hotel bar who turns out to be an undercover detective and is promptly arrested for soliciting.
When asked what experience she brought to the role at a press conference in Berlin, where My One And Only is in the main competition at the film festival, Zellweger joked:
"In terms of research for Mrs. Devereaux, can I just say 'no comment?'"
She said that starring in the independent picture was as good an experience as any she had had on set, and judging by the warm reaction after a press screening on Thursday in Berlin, My One And Only is a serious contender for the best picture award when the festival winds up on February 14.
The movie recreates the look and feel of 1950s America, with the Cold War in the background and huge excitement over social "advances" like the first TV dinners.
Zellweger said she benefited from the movie being set just over 50 years ago.
"The limited opportunities that women had in America at the time -- it was fun to play around that.
"It was fun to figure out how easy it was to break the mold back then and to not follow society's expectations, to be naughty so to speak. It was easy to be naughty in 50s America."
Much of the humor and depth of the film comes from the dynamic between the mother and two sons Robbie, played by Mark Rendall, and George, played by Logan Lerman.
George, a young charmer, is torn between his mother and his philandering father, a band leader played by Kevin Bacon.
The ultra-camp Robbie is obsessed with becoming an actor, but, despite landing lead theatrical roles at every school he attends during the odyssey, he never gets to play the part because his mother is keen to move on.
Despite a seemingly endless series of setbacks, Devereaux clings to her optimistic view on life, and, although far from the model mother, shows love and fierce loyalty to her boys who come from different relationships.
British director Richard Loncraine said the film was included in the Berlin lineup after the deadline had passed.
The movie had been in the pipeline for some 10 years before it finally got made.
"This was one of the great unmade scripts of Hollywood," said the director. "Everyone wanted to read it, everyone loved it but no one wanted to make it. It was really hard to find the money. There was no violence, no overt sex in it."
Editing by Paul Casciato