The formula for the perfect Hollywood rom-com has become pretty easy to describe as of late.
Introduce a self-defeating protagonist who does not believe in love. Check. Introduce them to a free spirit or opposite version of what they were looking for. Check. Throw in a conflict on why they can’t be together. Check. Let the characters resolve their conflict and live happily ever after. Check. But, what happens after the characters end up together?
Cue in the film: “The One I Love”. Directed by relatively unknown man Charlie McDowell, this indie film changes its approach tp romance by focusing on what happens after the initial spark of love.
The sparsely casted film focuses on a married couple going through marital troubles after years of being married. Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) attempt to rekindle their relationship through therapy sessions, but they quickly show their incompatibility (to the evident frustration of the therapist) as their sessions continue. Ethan’s cheating on his wife also doesn’t help his cause. However, the therapist offers them one last form of treatment, a weekend retreat.
Walking the line between summarizing and reviewing a movie requires a delicate balance but it becomes even harder to do either efficiently when a film’s main objective is to keep most of its plot a secret.
The majority of the film takes place in a beautifully kept bed and breakfast resort that seems to come out of the imagination of Martha Stewart. Everything is very quaint. The gardens and shrubs are always cut. The resort, of course, also offers a beautiful view of the lake and mountain trail nearby. It’s easy to notice however that the neighborhood is eerily quiet.
After around the 15-minute mark, the movie takes a different turn that functions as a catalyst for the rest of the movie. Without spoiling too much the film can be described as a weird mesh of Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” meets Ira Levin’s “The Stepford Wives”. The rom-com formula is now dashed with a hint of sci-fi.
Fortunately for the film, the film’s plot twist comes second to the actual film’s relevance. The screenwriter, Justin Lader, writes about the disillusioned romance and breaks down the perfect expectation of what love should be. The film is more about how it’s easy pretend to be a better version of one’s self when meeting someone new. Throughout the film Ethan and Sophie helplessly fail to communicate with each other even after years of marriage. They reminisce about how things were before and how it’s no longer the same. Neither Ethan nor Sophie is the people who they were pretending to be when they got married.
While Duplass (Ethan) is most noticeably known for his role as Pete in the FX’s show the League, he is also frequent collaborator with his brother Jay Duplass in the indie filmmaking league codirecting movies such as: “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Jeff Who Lives at Home.” Often utilizing a mix between a detailed scriptment and improvisation; the film
“The One I Love” is no different. The raw dialogue between Duplass and Moss gave a dynamic feel to the film’s direction to the point where perhaps the actors themselves didn’t even know what the next scene would really look like.
This is a change of pace for actress Elisabeth Moss who is mostly known for her role as Peggy in the very-scripted show “Mad Men”.
Filming the movie with only two main actors gave the movie an opportunity to give the actors an easy chance for major character development. Whether the film actually succeeded in that is not as easy to tell.
The characters found themselves focusing on what their desires of perfection looks like leap into the process of self-reflection a little too fast given the slow pace of the movie. It does at least offer a different direction that future movies could dive into, such as the harsher parts of relationships and the disturbingly real reactions to those situations.
“The One I Love” is limitedly released in theaters but is also available in Video on Demand.