"The One I Love" is a film that cannot be easily described, no matter how hard you try. You may be asking me, "But isn’t this supposed to be a cute, little indie romantic drama?" No … not at all.
At the forefront, the film does begin as a straightforward drama about a young couple’s failing marriage, which, really, we’ve seen plenty of times before. The movie, however, takes a clever turn and sweepingly twists genres together by throwing in a little mystery and a large dab of fantastical sci-fi. The final result of this unique blend is an unsettlingly eerie and satisfyingly inventive examination of marriage and intimate connections.
If you’re confused right now, trust me: It only gets more confusing from here.
Ethan (Mark Duplass, "The League") and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men") used to be that adventurous, risk-taking couple that stripped down and swam in a stranger’s pool in the middle of the night. Now, they’re a married couple that is on the brink of collapse, attending marriage counseling to find a way to rekindle their love rather than hopelessly give up on one another, no matter how much it seems like their marriage is steering into that direction.
After listening to what each has to say, an unnamed therapist (Ted Danson, who I could’ve sworn fell off the face of the earth) sends them on a vague weekend retreat that he promises will "renew" them like it has for other struggling couples before. Running out of options, they pack their bags and head to a large, ravishing home that comes equipped with a guesthouse that looks equally as beautiful.
It’s a picturesque location, which remains the sole location throughout the majority of the film, is one that promises a weekend to get away and a chance for Ethan and Sophie to gain back their spark that they once had. When they step through the door, they’re calmly at ease talking to one another, drinking wine, smoking a little marijuana and enjoying dinner side by side. Despite that things might be going okay for the couple, this is when things take a turn for Ethan and Sophie that’s guaranteed to force viewers to scratch their heads into oblivion (I have a small bald spot on my head to prove this).
I really, really don’t want to spoil the entire film (don’t force me to, either). It’s truly a unique drama that will certainly leave you with more questions than answers, and that’s okay; it livens up the discussions which I’m certain that you’ll be having.
Think of it this way: The entire film is as if Charlie Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") wrote and directed a drama about a married couple. If that doesn’t help you envision the unique, overall weirdness of "The One I Love," then I’ll refer to Ethan, who describes the weekend retreat as a "weird version of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’"
Kaufman obviously didn’t write or direct this film, but another Charlie did. Charlie McDowell, who previously wrote and directed the 2006 short "Bye Bye Benjamin," turns Justin Lader’s screenplay, while keeping the mystery solidly in place throughout, into a film that looks visually bold as it is narratively.
Meanwhile, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are so good as Ethan and Sophie. From their movements and facial expressions to their motives, the characters are thrilling to watch as the mystery that drives the film overtakes them – specifically Sophie, who is more curious to engage and get a thrill out of what’s going on while Ethan tries to figure things out.
Moss – who was terrific in "Top of the Lake" and, of course, "Mad Men" – brings a lot to her role as Sophie, who experiences a bit of an internal conflict as the narrative moves forward, one which puts quite a bit of a damper on their weekend getaway. I also liked how she goes from likeably sweet, which seems like her natural talent, to emotional to quietly menacing, such as the moment when she says, "On second thought, you finish the dishes." If or when you see the film, you’ll know exactly the scene I’m referring to.
Duplass also brings a lot to his role as Ethan, a guy who some would think is a square who eventually becomes a paranoid square. He even puts on the face of a suave, devilish jerk that'll make you want to magically reach into the screen and punch him in the mouth.
By the film’s end, the two characters see each other in a whole new light, even though it’s not quite the same way that we, nor they, were expecting. This complexity in their relationship and the plot itself is riveting in all of the right ways.
At its uneasy conclusion, "The One I Love" leaves you with more questions than answers. For a film that’s like a feature length version of an episode of "The Twilight Zone," however, answers are the least we should expect. Thankfully, McDowell and Lader keep those answers somewhere tucked inside of the guesthouse. After all, it’s where the mystery was found anyways.
"The One I Love" is currently playing on iTunes, VOD (check your local cable provider) and Amazon.
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