Director: Charles McDowall
Writer: Justin Lader
Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson
During the Hollywood ‘off-season’ when we aren’t getting peppered with big budget blockbusters or wooed by the latest award-season weepie, I like nothing more than settling down and watching films like The One I Love – a fun and quirky little film that feels inventive, fresh and completely defies pigeon holing by genre. It’s a indy rom-com drama with moments of horror and sci-fi but that doesn’t really tell you very much, does it? Fortunately, The One I Love is one of those films where the less you know about it going in, the better.
I thought about how much I’ll share in writing about the film and I’ve decided on drawing the line at what is revealed in the trailer.
The film begins with Ethan and Sophie, a married couple, visiting their marriage counselor, played by Ted Danson. Ethan and Sophie’s relationship is in trouble. They don’t have sex any more, quirky idiosyncrasies have turned into annoying habits and life isn’t as crazy and exciting as it once was. Perhaps to set the expectations from the outset that this is a film that seeks to subvert the usual rom-com tropes, Ethan and Sophie describe how during their courtship, they snuck into a neighbour’s house and jumped into his pool together as a thrilling and romantic act of spontaneity. When their relationship began to fizzle, they revisited the house and jumped in the pool again. Nothing special happens. They simply float in the pool, cold and unaffected.
The marriage counselor recommends a visit to a weekend retreat. It is unoccupied, has no on-site staff and is an opportunity for Ethan and Sophie to be left alone together with a chance to reconnect. They comply with his suggestion and visit the retreat. The first night starts well. They have dinner together, tell stories and make one another laugh. They drink wine and smoke spliffs. They have sex, then go to sleep. Or at least Sophie thinks they have sex. Ethan is confused. Sophie gets frustrated and yells at Ethan. Over the next few hours, Ethan and Sophie treat one another in wildly inconsistent fashion. Sometimes they are warm and kind. Other times they are angry and reactionary. It is almost as if there are two Ethans and two Sophies. Which is of course, the film’s strange and intriguing hook.
What exactly is going on here? Does the house contain a doorway to an alternate dimension? Are Other Ethan and Other Sophie real? Even if you don’t get caught up in trying to understand them, what do you do with them?
The One I Love introduces its strange conceit pretty early on in the film and then allows the audience, through Ethan and Sophie’s eyes, to learn more about this other-worldly conundrum by exploring the concept to its fullest potential. Would you run away? Would you try and control the situation? Would you try and learn the rules of this strange alternate reality ? If you did, wouldn’t it be tempting to try and break those rules just to see what happens?
Part of what contributed to my enjoyment of The One I Love is that even before the quirkiness began, I was digging the company of both Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in their respective roles. Ethan and Sophie are both believable and well rounded characters who more than hold their own in this film which, if we’re being honest, is almost entirely about two regular people in a house together. The film does a good job at capturing the shared little details that develop in a long term relationship. The stuff about having bacon for breakfast, Ethan’s lapsed exercise routine and his infidelity which the marriage initially survived but struggles to deal with years later are all handled with a deft touch that feels completely genuine. The grounded and credible nature of Ethan and Sophie’s relationship help anchor the film when the audience is asked to suspend disbelief over the high concept otherworldly stuff.
For a film that straddles the line between four or five different genres, it did a remarkable job of holding my interest and having a sense of purpose to its proceedings. This could easily have collapsed into an unintelligible mess in the third act when they really go for broke with the concept. Instead, I Fee Love seems assured and surefooted, even at its most chaotic. The writer and director guide us to a conclusion that I think few will predict but it all comes together like clockwork and when you hear that final line and understand that final twist in the tale, I suspect you will be nothing less than satisfied with the experience.