THE ONE I LOVE (2014, directed by Charlie McDowell, 91 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC The One I Love is a fresh little comic fantasy, a Twilight Zone/Curb Your Enthusiasm mix that reminds us that all is not dormant in the U.S. indie film scene. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and indie director Mark Duplass play a couple in a romantic rut. While on a rural retreat the couple find their relationship magically challenged by mysterious events they confront while trying to re-light their relationship. Like a lot of comic fantasies, The One I Love can’t quite resolve the possibilities conjured up by its premise but there’s enough honest friction in its ideas to make for a diverting late summer cinema experience.
As Ethan and Sophie, Moss and Duplass play a married pair who seem to have over time pecked their relationship to near-death. Ted Danson has a nice moment as the therapist who offers them a great getaway to help them reawaken their romance. Once there, it is Ethan who first discovers that a trip to the small guest house behind the cottage presents a supernatural opportunity to rediscover their spouse. The One I Love‘s trailer plays coy on exactly what the characters find in the guest house but it is a simple premise that gets straight to the heart of this couple’s disappointment with each other.
The characters’ isolation during this weekend places all the burden on its pair of performers as we remain cooped up with them as they sift through the details of what makes their partner today different from the partner with which they originally fell in love. As an actor, Elizabeth Moss makes the most of this opportunity. I haven’t seen her in beyond her vividly mousy portrayal of Peggy in Mad Men but here she gets to show her range, with Sophie alternately being sexy & spontaneous as well as jaded & emotionally exhausted. The role makes for a real actor’s showcase and Moss gets to infuse Sophie with a sense of real pulsing life.
Mark Duplass is the film’s executive producer and despite The One I Love not being a film he wrote and directed (like Baghead, another rural relationship-driven film or the adult romance Cyrus) it fits in with the fare he has put his name on. As for Duplass the actor, he can be fine in the naturalistic, Mumblecore-style films he began his career with but as a performer he doesn’t quite have the indefinable snap that makes someone an engaging leading actor. It doesn’t help that Ethan is a bit of a fuddy duddy so Duplass’ tight-assed manner tilts a little far into the pure-unlikability range for this viewer. Sophie’s frustration with Ethan starts to seem so warranted that you may question whether you want this relationship fixed in the long run.
The clever script by first timer Justin Lader and the tension in Charlie McDowell tension-laden direction extends our curiosity to almost the conclusion but these sort of supernatural conundrums rarely have a ending worthy of their premise. If The One I Love doesn’t quite nail its closing note it is still a thoughtful examination of a romance struggling to keep breathing as the middle age blues set in.