THE ONE I LOVE
Director: Charlie McDowell
Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson
MPAA Rating: (for language, some sexuality and drug use)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 8/22/14
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 21, 2014
Falling in love is easy; staying in love takes work. Feelings and circumstances change, and if a romantic relationship is to survive, it must adapt. There is perhaps a tendency to believe that love at all of its stages must be perfect. It felt perfect at one point in time, so why shouldn't that feeling carry over with time?
People are imperfect. Theoretically, a combination of two imperfect people would only mean a greater amount of imperfections, yet a person will expect or demand perfection from oneself and/or one's partner when it comes to a romantic coupling. How many relationships fail because it is impossible for such expectations and/or demands to be met?
The question of perfection comes up quite early in The One I Love, as Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) recount the first time they met. They were at a party and hit if off well. After abandoning the festivities, they started wandering around the neighborhood, finding a pool in someone's backyard. They stripped to their underwear and jumped into the water before the commotion awoke the homeowner.
We watch this scene unfold, but it is not a flashback to the couple's first meeting. They are now married and facing a crisis. The two have returned to the scene of the apex of their relationship—the moment in which everything seemed to be perfect—in the hope that recreating it will somehow get them out of the relationship's current nadir. The scene concludes with them floating in the pool, waiting in a state of limbo for a moment that cannot be repeated. Still, they wait.
What if the man who owns the house did come out to chase them away from the pool? Would those old feelings return? There's a more important question, though: How long would they last? After those feeling inevitably fade, would the event only serve as a reminder as to how far removed from an ideal their relationship has become? Each already has a certain level of bitterness toward the other and self-resentment, so would those feelings become stronger?
The screenplay by Justin Lader is wise in a few ways. It creates a rather inspired scenario that takes an unexpected path as a means to study a couple's fairly ordinary conflict. Lader uses that conceit to directly confront those earlier questions, and he's smart enough to know that the more important ones will always linger.
Ethan and Sophie begin the film in a counseling session in which they are quite open with their therapist (Ted Danson). There's still the sense that they're holding back on some things. The therapist recommends that they spend a weekend at an isolated estate. They figure it's worth a shot.
The two spend the day exploring. Later that night, they partake in some wine and smoke some pot, and Sophie says she wants to visit the guest house.
Ethan is already there. We might notice that his mood is a bit cheerier and that he isn't wearing his glasses, which is a look Sophie earlier suggested he should adopt. The next morning, after Sophie has returned, Ethan makes his own trip to the guest house, only to discover Sophie, who has cooked him breakfast. The meal includes bacon, which Sophie disapproves of him eating.
At this point, we must enter that dreaded territory of "spoilers," even though examining the proceeding elements and events are essential to any worthwhile discussion of the film. When either spouse enters the guest house, the person waiting there is Ethan or Sophie. They look the same and talk in the same way as Ethan and Sophie, but these people aren't them, either. They are idealized versions of the significant others (Both Duplass and Moss create two similar but distinct characters).
At first, we think it might be a form of therapy for the real Ethan and Sophie. They could observe their idealized selves and try to better themselves by example, but there's a devious rule to this scenario: Whenever one spouse is in the guest house, the other is barred from entering.
The two could discuss the differences between the real and ideal with each other, but this is a couple that has not had a genuine conversation in quite some time. For Sophie, the arrival of a man who is essentially her husband but who will actually listen to and communicate with her breaks down the bond with her husband even more. Ethan, still unsure of how to correct a transgression against Sophie, reacts with possessive jealousy, trying to latch on to a relationship that he almost destroyed in the first place.
Essentially, Ethan and Sophie are each presented with the opportunity to achieve perfection in their relationship—or at least whatever they deem "perfection" to be. The price for this would be to dismiss his or her real spouse in order to live a lie (That in itself is an astute perspective from Lader). It's the temptation of an easy fix.
The film becomes a little more complicated as things progress (yes, even more so than what's already been established so far), especially as it becomes clear that the secondary Ethan and Sophie have lives that are separate from the real Ethan and Sophie. Lader doesn't cheapen the gimmick (He does find the humor in it); each development continues to pick away at problems of these two people. Note, for example, the way the duplicates' relationship mirrors that of the originals' relationship.
The One I Love features four persuasive performances from two actors, and with his feature film debut, director Charlie McDowell displays a steady, sympathetic hand in documenting the workings and failings of a couple struggling to keep things together. This is smart filmmaking, not only for the inventiveness of Lader's central conceit but also for the dexterity from all involved to keep it grounded in reality.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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