Charlie McDowell’s Sundance feature debut has managed to preserve its air of mystery into its theatrical release. The One I Love (2014), on the surface, appears to be a romantic comedy of errors. Yet, the film unfolds like a Rubik’s cube: seemingly simple at first and increasingly complex to solve.
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are trying to save their marriage, both equally bewildered by how they’ve changed. Their therapist (Ted Danson) sends them on a last resort weekend trip that he promises will change their marriage for the better. When Sophie and Ethan arrive at their idyllic retreat, they are charmed by the sprawling grounds and seem to be connecting once more but the shadows of their former selves may continue to drive them apart.
Fans of “The Twilight Zone” will feel right at home with this film. It has the same tonal quality and mysterious air that made the TV show compelling.
Throughout the film there is this building tension for scarier, more horror-driven actions and ending, but that tension successfully drives the story forward even when the expected violence does not appear. No, the strength of The One I Love lies in the fascinating oddities presented as fact, as in another Duplass brothers collaboration, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012).
Cinematographer Doug Emmett creates beautiful warm and hazy tones that add a surreal yet comforting quality to the film. It’s Emmett’s use of light and washed-out color that keep the film from feeling too threatening, which would have lessened the contemplative moments in the film and those are not to be missed.
What is perhaps most impressive is that you don’t realize that there are only three principal actors driving the film until the credits roll, because The One I Love feels so full of character and talent.
Elizabeth Moss sells this film. Duplass is good but Moss is better. Her shy inquisition into the unknown, her brimming hope, her depth of sadness all radiate from Moss, though her movements are controlled and precise. Duplass’ power is in creating a convincing duality, and The One I Love would have floundered without this skill.
Danson only appears in the film for about ten minutes, since it is truly Ethan and Sophie’s story, but he plays his part as catalyst well. Writer, Justin Lader, shows his mastery of story by successfully weaving a complex tale that does not require an abundance of actors. Not an easy feat.
Neither is wit. And The One I Love is smart and funny: not in a laugh-out-loud way but in the snort-and-chortle sense.
This film left me with lots of logistical questions that will tangle your brain in knots, but I mean that in the best way possible. I’d have loved some more answers from the filmmakers, but I cannot stop thinking about this film and there is something compelling in that puzzle quality.
I need to see The One I Love again. To consider other angles and catch hints previously missed. It has been awhile since I’ve felt this twitchy or haunted by a good film and that is exciting!
The film is rated R for language, some sexuality, and drug use. This is a crock. Content-wise this film should be PG-13. It’s probably an R for dropping the f-bomb, but the “strong language” does not stand out.
Overall, I’d give The One I Love 4 movie bubbles.