The highly anticipated debut feature from acclaimed author Charlie McDowell, THE ONE I LOVE is an original tale that continues to showcase McDowell's keen observations of human relationships with a distinct and comedic voice. THE ONE I LOVE, written by Justin Lader, was produced by Mel Eslyn and executive produced by Mark Duplass, who stars opposite Elisabeth Moss. On the brink of separation, Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) escape to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to save their marriage. What begins as a romantic and fun retreat soon becomes surreal, when an unexpected discovery forces the two to examine themselves, their relationship, and their future.
The One I Love is a quirky premise for an indie romance that ends up being rather telling beyond its sci-fi gimmick. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a bitter couple in need of some repairs to their marriage. A marriage counselor (Ted Danson) recommends a quiet getaway for the two of them at a gorgeous vacation home. When they arrive and get settled, they seem to be on the right track to a better relationship. They share a meal, a bottle of wine and a bag of weed with a few laughs. On the premises of this vacation home is a guest house which contains their greatest desire: a perfect version of each other’s partner.
When Sophie enters this guest house, she notices a more regal Ethan that works out, flirts effortlessly and doesn’t wear glasses. When Ethan enters this guest house, he discovers a Sophie that also flirts playfully, but cooks him a breakfast with the one thing he could never make her add: bacon. The catch is that Ethan or Sophie can only be in the house for their dream partner to appear. While inside, the doors automatically lock and the windows can not be broken. After the initial confusion, it isn’t long before the two realize what’s really going on with the guest house. Rather than try to solve the mystery from the get-go as Ethan suggests, the two come to an understanding to make each other happy with a strange intergalactic swingers arrangement.
Though it’s quite obvious that they won’t heed their own advice, there are a few ground rules set up for their frolics with their happier partners. They only stay in the guest house for fifteen minutes and they don’t have sex are the key points. But the more each of them enters the guest room, the more charmed and swept away they become with joy. It isn’t long before their thoughts and emotions get the best of them. But while Sophie finds herself overly pleased by the situation, Ethan is more perplexed by why all this is happening and what dangers are contained within the guest house. This distrust reaches awkward proportions when Ethan decides to break into the guest house at just the right moment to pose as the “better” Ethan which leads to the strangest sexual experience for both of them. How could things get any more weird? How about the two of them actually meeting their happier selves when all four of them finally converge for a cringe-worthy night of cards and drinks. Suddenly dinner with the in-laws doesn’t sound so bad.
Director Charlie McDowell masterfully directs this off-beat romance with the perfect amount of mystery and character. He plays up the situation with interesting characters that are smart enough at first to ditch the scene, but curiously playful enough to return for some fun. Their observations on their relationship are genuinely funny in how they try to reason and rationalize the dark prospect of idealization in love. McDowell zooms in with precision on a key component of romance that is hardly harped upon and rarely with such an intelligent punch.
The mystery itself is just as engaging the way Ethan slowly tracks down clues about this vacation home and the various couples that occupied it prior. There are no majorly showy special effects being a sci-fi tale on a budget and there isn’t exactly a grand reveal of the home’s true purpose either. The movie instead chooses to focus on the real meat of the story in how a perfect double of yourself takes away identity and intimacy. How can you trust your own partner when there is somebody else who looks exactly like you and fulfills their every desire? Is Sophie really thinking about the better Ethan when she’s spending time with the flawed and real Ethan? It seems like very deep and dark subject matter, but it’s rather comical in how these feelings don’t stay bottled up for long.
The One I Love plays like a cross between a romantic comedy and an episode of The Twilight Zone. It takes a supernatural setup for a couple's getaway and winds up being far more honest and telling than the usual romantic formula. This is one of those hypothetical trivia questions from a couples game turned into a darkly comedic reality with a bitter ending that you may see coming, but still resonates with a heavy dose of guilt and loss of self. As far as romantic comedies go, this is probably one you wouldn’t throw on for a date night with a happy ending. But if your partner happen to have a taste for the awkward and supernatural, this is easily at the top of the list for something weird and different.
You rated this film: 4
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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