The One I Love (2014) / Romance-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss
Small role: Ted Danson, Marlee Matlin, Mary Steenburgen (voice), Charlie McDowell (voice)
Director: Charlie McDoweel
Screenplay: Justin Lader
Review published August 24, 2014
The One I Love is one of those movies that will likely hold an extra amount of enjoyment going in without any sort of knowledge, so if you haven't seen it yet, and you like offbeat independent movies, just watch it and come back to this review. I can't guarantee you'll like it, but I will bet that, regardless of how you feel, you'll enjoy it more than if you go in with the knowledge I will impart below.
Even so, I'm not going to get into overt spoilers, regardless, so if you're adventurous enough to still be reading because you're not sure if it's worth your time, you're welcome to proceed.
The story, as much as I can tell you: Ethan (Duplass, Tammy) and Sophie (Moss, On the Road) are a couple who are seeing a marriage therapist (Danson, Saving Private Ryan) in order to try to put the spark back into their relationship. The therapist recommends a weekend retreat in beautiful Ojai, California, that he says is guaranteed to rejuvenate their lost chemistry again. It takes a little time, but soon, they're their old selves again, sharing laughs, flirtation, and a renewed energy that deems the getaway a success. But during their romantic interplay, they discover that they're both hiding a very big secret, and they begin to ponder whether they should just let things be and continue to be happy, or if they should continue to scratch that itch of curiosity and undo everything in the process.
Knowing that there is a secret isn't really a spoiler, as you find out the plot twist before the first fifteen minutes are up. Although I've labeled the genre 'romance/sci-fi', it's an uncomfortable label to wear since we're not explicitly told all of the answers. I could have just as easily called in a dark comedy or a mystery-drama. However, with "Twilight Zone"-esque overtones, it's as close as I can reasonably come.
The One I Love is cleverly written by Justin Lader and directed with budget-minded skill by Charlie McDowell (son of actor Malcolm, and step-son to Ted Danson, who makes a small acting appearance), both of whom are making their feature film debuts. It's quite a splash; not nearly as ambitious as, say, Being John Malkovich in terms of mind-bending comedies, but it finds a hook and is able to ride it for the duration with our interest intact. There are a few "tells" to the film that make it somewhat predictable in certain respects, but the movie explores the world of tells and bluffs enough to make it a theme, so if the film as a whole does the same, perhaps it's not unintentional.
As absorbing as the ideas are behind the film, the project just wouldn't work without the skill of the two main actors, who have to say so much with just a look, a subtle expression or a gesture in order to let us know what they're thinking. It's especially important because their characters are playing through multiple facets within each progressive scene, but somehow, we always seem to know just what's going on. I love the use of metaphors, such as an impromptu game of Tic Tac Toe, which features the symbols of affection -- X's and O's -- ending in a stalemate, where no one is the winner.
If there is a main theme to the film, perhaps its that couples can often fall in love when they experience the positive nature of each other, then struggle to find that love again when too much negative and unresolved emotional baggage enters the mix. If we could just open up about the baggage and smooth things over in a light and positive way, we wouldn't have to always feel the weight of it throughout by ignoring it.
It's a high-minded exercise, but I think that this theme really strikes home, and the movie ultimately becomes the thing that it's exploring: the key to rejuvenating one's floundering relationship. While it's not really the romantic date movie that it might seem from outward appearances, it just might be the kind of movie that spurs couples who've encountered their own marriage malaise on what adjustments it might take to feel that closeness again.
©2014 Vince Leo