Occasionally, films that appear decidedly earthbound require us to accept a fantastical premise. Being John Malkovich told us that a small doorway can lead into an actor’s brain. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind posited that we can erase painful memories in real time by visiting an internal dystopia. And The One I Love builds a reality where . . .
The 400-Word-Review: The One I Love
By Sean Collier
September 17, 2014
…you know what, I’m not going to spoil it. Getting there is too fun.
It’s safe to say that the indie comedy from director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader follows a couple with an ailing relationship. Ethan (Mark Duplass, who also produced the film with his brother Jay and others) cheated on Sophie (Elisabeth Moss). Sophie says she wants to move past that, but may be lying. Their therapist (Ted Danson) blends truisms with goofy exercises. When he hands them the keys to a getaway house that has rekindled plenty of flames in the past, though, Ethan and Sophie are hopeful.
What happens at that property is the bit of magic realism I can’t reveal; let’s say that the couple is given a window on the truth through very metaphysical circumstances.
It’s notable that The One I Love, as well as the two examples I mentioned above, use their bizarre premises to (in short) comment on relationships. That topic — perhaps the most abundantly-covered in cinema history — certainly needs no dressing to be made dramatic or compelling. But maybe that’s the idea; we’re used to seeing beautiful people wax poetic about love in entirely realistic circumstances. Putting day-to-day concerns in uncanny space can make the messages resonate.
Duplass and Moss never let the film’s grasp on reality slip the reins, perhaps due to how authentic their relationship feels. Both are easily likable in isolation, but turn sour as the pressure of a floundering relationship enters the room; not only can both actors justify their side of a rocky conflict, they truly seem to believe it.
The biggest backflips, however, are performed by the screenwriter. Lader needs to keep a lot straight to make The One I Love function, both literally and emotionally. Not only does he succeed, he excels; he resists the urge to spell out the movie’s mysteries, even when it becomes very tempting.
So in his honor, I’m not going to spell them out here, either. You’ll know them when you see them. Careful, though. It’s a trip.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark