Directed by: Charlie McDowell.
Written by: Justin Lader.
Starring: Mark Duplass (Ethan), Elisabeth Moss (Sophie), Ted Danson (The Therapist).
Spoiler Warning: The studio releasing The One I Love asked critics not to reveal the twist in the movie`s first act – which both makes sense and is pointless. It makes sense because the movie works better if you don’t know what’s coming – hell it would even better if you didn’t know there was a twist at all, but the cat`s out of the bag on that one. But it’s also pointless, because there is no intelligent way of talking about the movie at all, without talking about the twist – because it happens in the first act, its barely a twist at all, but really the premise of the movie. Still, I wanted to put the Spoiler warning in for those who have not seen the movie. You should – it`s a really good movie – but you also probably want to stop reading now if you want to see it. You`ve been warned.
The opening scenes of The One I Love play like any number of Indie dramas. A married couple is in therapy because they`ve reached an impasse in their relationship, and cannot figure out a past it. Their therapist (Ted Danson) suggests they get away for the weekend together – and even has a catalogue for the perfect getaway spot for them. They agree, and head off for the weekend. It is a gorgeous property – a great big house, a beautiful pool, a guest house and acres of wilderness around them. There is nothing for the two of them to do but spend time with each other. Perhaps this is what they need.
Before we hit the half hour mark though, the movie enters Twilight Zone territory (AGAIN SPOILER WARNING) – as the pair discover that the guest house actually does have guests in it – and not the normal kind. If just one of them enter the guest house, they will find a more perfect version of their spouse already there. At first, they just think it`s really their spouse, but then they both have strange experiences in there. And the spouse they meet in the house is seemingly a better version then the real one – less critical, less bitchy; more focused on their partners needs than the real version. Ethan (Mark Duplass) is immediately skeptical, and wants to know what the hell is going on. He questions everything to the point that the more perfect version of his wife creeps him out. But Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) starts to like the more perfect Ethan more. He`s more fun loving, more attentive, less sarcastic. It may be a fantasy version of Ethan – but she`s happier with the fantasy than the reality.
To a certain extent then, The One I Love is a puzzle movie – but it`s less concerned with the puzzle itself, than the relationship – and Ethan and Sophie`s different reactions to the possibilities the guest houses and its guests raises. For Ethan, he`s simply creeped out. Why would he want a copy of Sophie – even one who is less critical of him – when he could have the real Sophie? But for Sophie, the new Ethan is a reminder of the old Ethan – the fun loving guy she fell in love with, rather than the one who has lied to her and who she blames for the deterioration of their relationship.
The performances by the two leads are excellent. More than Moss, Duplass is essentially playing two different roles here – the skeptic, and the fun loving, care free one – and he does both very well. Moss is even better, even if she doesn’t play her own doppelganger as much, because what the real Sophie goes through is more complicated. She wants her life back to what it was – or perhaps even better than it was – and sees a way to get it. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t understand it, she’s happier than she’s been in a while – and wants to stay that way. The One I Love is basically about the difference between the reality of what a long term relationship actually is, and the fantasy of what we want it to be. In reality, we are never given the choice between the two – but Sophie is presented with that choice.
The end of the movie works – but is also the most obvious ending given the setup that the filmmakers could have come up with. Personally, I always prefer a little ambiguity in a film like this, and the filmmakers behind the one I love – director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader (both of whom show tremendous promise) don’t supply that. Instead, they wrap everything up in an obvious, yet effective way. Besides, I’m not sure there was a better way to end the film. The One I Love has a Twilight Zone premise to be sure – but like the best Twilight Zone episode it uses the premise for something deeper and more real than the premise suggests.