“I mean, I’ll try anything.”
Completely original films are hard to come by, especially when it comes to romance and drama. What’s so amazing about this film, aside from the originality, is its ability to survive off of a plot twist and not have audiences ruin it. Our social landscape grounded in the concepts of sharing and hear-it-here-first nearly makes that impossible. Yet with this film we feel like we’re in on the ruse and left not wanting to spoil the surprise for the rest of us. The One I Love is a showcase of powerhouse acting, well-paced direction, and darkly offbeat humor. You won’t feel the need to revisit it often, but you’ll definitely think about it long after it has finished.
A man and a woman sneak into a stranger’s backyard and jump into the pool. Through flashbacks we see that this is how Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) first met as they recount the story to their shrink. The failed recreation of that first night together ends with emotionless faces exchanging a politely uncharged, “Happy Anniversary.” Their therapist (Ted Danson) suggests a radical solution; visit a small resort that he promises has helped everyone he has sent there. Off they go.
I’ll delve into as little detail as possible about this movie as it best to head into completely blind. All I have to say is pay attention early on. A plot twist that changes the entire story happens around the twelve minute mark, and from there on out it’s all a mind game. They enter and exit the guesthouse in a picturesque West Coast estate, baffled and intrigued by what they find inside. Themes such as true identity, questions of reality, and the idea of relational boredom all come into play. It makes you wonder what is going on without ever getting too complicated for its own good. Still, I was confused at some points, only to find myself pulled back in by the catalysts and momentous shifts in the movie. It hits all of the right beats.
Directed by newcomer Charlie McDowell, he allows the film to be more about the actors’ performances than about forcing his own artistic flair into the project. Duplass and Moss are the entire movie. They both play Atlas here and carry the weight of the story in a split load. Duplass is one of my favorite actors (and filmmakers) of the moment. He has great talent onscreen, but it’s undeniable that his knowledge of storytelling and what works well behind the camera is tremendous. I was more drawn to Moss during this movie though. Ethan is the guy who lives by a playbook while Sophie clearly wants to shake up her life with spontaneity and change. Acting, when well done, is plain to see because you don’t really notice until it’s over. The film finished and all I could remember were the haunting expressions and deep-seated emotion in their eyes. Bravo to them both.
While I must admit that the movie almost gets too layered and dense to understand in one viewing, I never felt lost. So much of The One I Love revolves around answering who the one you love actually is. Do you love your partner? Do you love yourself? Do you love the idea of being with them more than actually being with them? We find the answers through metaphors such as locking the other out of a house, showing the separation from allowing them into your inner feelings. You might scratch your head at the end and you might not. True to its unconventional story, the last scene answers many of the raised questions with the smell of sizzling bacon in the morning. Just like that olfactory scent, The One I Love will wake you up and linger above you once it has passed.
“I’m not leaving.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5