“The One I Love is a Hitchcockian thriller in tone and a Twilight Zone episode (as stated by Ethan) in look and feel, with everything appearing to be well when everything couldn’t be further from it.”
The One I Love is so, so close to being an extraordinary, subversive romantic comedy, with real commentary about the state of marriage and relationships, along with trying to articulate where exactly that person we married/fell in love with goes after so many years, that it’s only burden is the lack of clarity of its own ideas. This is a film I feel fully confident in saying that writer Justin Lader, director Charlie McDowell, and leading actors Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss understood themselves, but what we have here is a failure to communicate that understanding to lacking critical, need-to-know inside information.
Surprisingly enough, there’s a sliver of clarity to latch onto in the film’s screenplay and themes, just enough for a recommendation to be warranted, which is more that can be said for many films boasting intelligent but unrealized ideas. To keep things as basic as possible, as implored by the crew of the film and critics alike, the film involves Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss), a young couple who are experiencing a souring in their love and romance together. Encouraged by a therapist (Ted Danson), the two take a weekend vacation at a lovely resort house to sort out their marital difference, upon their therapist’s recommendation and the monstrous success and positivity the resort has been met with by other couples. Little do Ethan, Sophie, and the audience know that there is a surreal twist in this resort, which will bring out the traits of their characters, those that still exist and those that left years ago.
The One I Love definitely needs a spoiler-ridden review in order to articulate its points, but I like a challenge when reviewing films. For starters, the premise is one where the core thematic ideas seem to be finding that person you were when you fell in love and were married and staying true to that person you were. We see Sophie consistently find herself attracted the person Ethan used to be, thought-provoking, observant, and hilariously metaphorical, before descending into a more smug caricature of himself, as thought-provoking, observant, and metaphorical souls often do. In addition, we see Ethan’s opposition to Sophie clinging to the past and not accepting the reality of the present, offering in a conflict of living in the past versus living in the present, as well as trying to recall that person we once were, which McDowell seems to be quietly hinting as to why many marriages are on the rocks in present time.
The issue is that the twist in The One I Love is one that is never fully-explained, and by the last twenty-five minutes of the film, I grew restless and tired of trying to mentally wrap my head around the situations without some form of solidification of my ideas. I felt like I was in arm’s length of grasping the idea of the film, but was never fully nudged in the direction where I could do so. The One I Love plays like a mumblecore feature with more of a complex premise, other than most of the complexities of the film stemming from the main character’s common personal problems. A more specific comparison would be Safety Not Guaranteed, 2012’s sleeper hit, which also featured the talents of Duplass, as it focused on a common idea of fitting in and finding ones place with a pinch of science-fiction and fantasy in there. The difference is that Safety Not Guaranteed had an idea that was far easier to grasp and, rather than spending much of its time showcasing the idea, spent more time developing the characters behind it.
McDowell and Lader feel entangled in showing different ideas behind their idea that they fail to sum it up coherently or make its thematic significance known. But even with that, we have the talents of Duplass and Moss to watch for the entire film, as they never leave frame, and we always feel in some form of their company. I’ve repeatedly informed readers to keep an eye out for Duplass as his projects get bigger and more ambitious and he continues to get braver and more comfortable in his unique role choices. A filmmaker himself, directing numerous films of the mumblecore genre with his brother Jay, Duplass has had a hand in almost every element of filmmaking, right down to playing complex and burdened characters that we can despise at times and pity at others. Moss shouldn’t go unnoticed either, with the ability to play helpless but, at times, in control being fiercely watchable and investing, complimenting the on-edge nature of her co-star, Duplass. Both actors accentuate solid chemistry with each other and find themselves truly put to the test come time to face their previous selves.
The One I Love is a Hitchcockian thriller in tone and a Twilight Zone episode (as stated by Ethan) in look and feel, with everything appearing to be well when everything couldn’t be further from it. The lack of clarity and solidifying closure at the end aside, I’ll be damned if this wasn’t one of the most original and thoughtful films of the year based solely on plot and desire to restore significant themes in a worm genre.