The One I Love is an impressive debut for director Charlie McDowell – a romantic drama that takes a most unexpected turn and delights in its own, unique way.
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are a couple on the verge of breaking up but are not giving up without a fight – hence their visits to The Therapist (Ted Danson).
Watching them talk about their issues really brings home their personalities in a hurry. Ethan is analytical and has problems when it comes to taking things on faith. Sophie is more open-minded but also stubborn when she feels like she’s in the right.
The Therapist tries a compatibility test that, he says, shows them to be completely out of sync. As a last ditch effort to help them, he proposes they take a weekend and get away from it all. He sends them to a lovely place outside a small town – a secluded retreat consisting of a beautiful house with a guest house, surrounded by great scenery. It looks perfect.
Even in this lovely setting it takes the two a while to settle in. They do a bit of exploring – the guest house, it turns out, is just a lovely as the main house – and then the big twist. I can’t say anything about the twist – it’s too big and too important. Let’s just say that this particular incident of getting away from it all might be the most demanding therapy the couple could ever undergo.
Because of its unique twist, The One I Love gets to explore a dying relationship in heartbreaking detail. Since their marriage, it seems like Ethan and Sophie have grown in different directions. He’s more a believer in logic and analytical thinking – he’s apologized for something in their recent past and figures that they should be able to move on. She’s more emotional about the situation and doesn’t think he should get to decide anything about how/when they movie on.
In a weird way, the big twist leads to a far more thorough and disturbing exploration of what makes a relationship work – trust, faith, work, and love – than a more straightforward romantic drama might. Ethan shows both a lack of these traits and a seeming unwillingness to develop them while Sophie seems far more prepared to get to it.
Both Duplass and Moss are superb in roles that require a lot of fine adjustments and have terrific chemistry – even as their relationship is falling apart, they feel like they should be a much better fit than they are.
Danson only has a brief role in the proceedings, but he takes the kind of good-natured attitude that first brought him to our attention in Cheers and then subverts it ever so slightly.
The script, by first-timer Justin Lader, is smart and insightful and McDowell does a great job of staging it. You would never this was the first feature-length film for both of them. It helps that Duplass, Moss and Danson are so good, but the writing and direction enable them to get there in the first place.
The One I Love is one of those small movies – like Little Miss Sunshine, or Safety Not Guaranteed – that
get under your skin. It’s not a film that will disappear from your memory minutes after you leave the theater – rather, it will probably give a lot to think and/or talk about afterwards.
Photo courtesy Radius-TWC/EOne
Final Grade: A-