The One I Love (2014) | Can't Stop the Movies
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The One I Love (2014)

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In The One I Love, a couple played by Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss is sent by their therapist to a remote country house for a weekend in an effort to renew the passion they've lost in their marriage. On the property, the two make a strange discovery that calls to question the nature of their relationship and, to a degree, of reality itself. (Available on Amazon VOD while it's in theaters.)

The One I LoveKyleLikeNew

The One I Love takes an interesting premise and pulls it in a lot of different directions. Some of them work and some don't, and in the end you're left with a movie that will linger because of its weirdness but maybe not so much the deeper themes they're trying to engage with. The marketing for the movie is doing it a disservice by keeping its key plot point a secret, as this is the entire thing that sets it apart from any number of generic romantic dramedies. If it were so strong on the basis of the acting, or made such a profound impact in its observations on love and relationships, or were simply so funny that word of mouth was enough to get people out to see it, keeping the surprise about its plot under wraps would make sense. It's not quite enough of any of those things, so the main reason to watch it becomes the way it offers a totally new and out-there twist on the marriage-on-the-rocks movie.

This makes it tough to review, because on a broad level you can look only at what it's exploring, not how it's doing so. What I've got here is a split review—if you're interested in seeing it, I'd encourage you to skip the brief (and clearly marked) spoiler'd section and go in fresh, but if you're still not sure then give that part a read too. Ultimately the novelty of the premise may be enough to convince more people to watch the movie (especially since it's simultaneously available in theatres and on VOD), and even though I'm lukewarm overall, that can't be a bad thing.

Duplass and Moss in Therapist's Office

The film opens with a bleakly funny visit to the couple's therapist, played with appropriate flakiness by Ted Danson.

The basic setup involves Ethan and Sophie (played by Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss), a couple who've sought counseling for their marriage, which is falling apart following Ethan's past infidelity. Their therapist (Ted Danson, in all of one scene) sends them to a reclusive country home to spend a weekend reconnecting, where they make a “strange discovery.” Just what they find and how it affects them is precisely the spoiler mentioned above, but what director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader have done is construct a situation where the very existential notions of relationships are questioned. How do you know ever really know another person? How much of your love for that person is them, and how much is built on your own projection of them? What does it all mean? This is all a bit Philosophy 101.

What's interesting are the ways Ethan and Sophie react to their situation, and the specific ways they choose to explore these questions when confronted with strikingly literal ways to do so. That they both react very differently to what they find at the house reveals more about them than they seem to notice about each other. This is a clever way to look at the dangers of idealizing another person, especially when so many romantic comedies try to mask their perfect characters with superficial flaws in service of the plot.

Ethan and Sophie in the pool

Ethan and Sophie's attempts to force life back into their marriage are often based in replaying events from their past.

One of the most interesting decisions, though, occurs around the halfway point, when McDowell and Lader decide to deviate from the basic personal and emotional implications of their plot and introduce an element of suspense. A kind of threat (maybe?) enters into the story that I didn't expect, though was definitely intrigued by, and this shifts the engine driving the narrative in the last act to one located somewhere in between the almost Primer-esque curiosity of the premise and the more grounded relationship at its center. It's a balancing act that's tough to maintain, and ultimately this shift adds more immediate entertainment (and weirdness) value at the expense of lasting impact.

And that's where we have to get into a discussion of the premise itself, which entails...




Ok. So. Upon arriving at the house, Ethan and Sophie discover that any time one of them enters a small guesthouse behind the property, they are confronted with a perfect copy of their partner. This person looks, sounds, and acts like them, and knows intimate details that no one else would. Reacting with a surprisingly subdued mix of skepticism and curiosity, they decide to explore the opportunity further, setting some basic ground rules and alternately spending short chunks of time in the house, after which they discuss their experiences together.

The question, other than “what is going on here,” is why this type of experience would be so intriguing. The duplicates are different—there's a sense of otherness to them despite all appearances indicating not only perfect physical, but also mental copies—and for a couple trying to reconnect with partners they each feel they've lost touch of, it's a bizzarely convenient literalization of their problem. But as they (and we) start to experience more interactions with these duplicates, the subtle differences between the “real” and guesthouse-based counterparts become more pronounced.

Ethan and Sophi arguing

Without giving anything else away, this arrangement is more ideal for Sophie than it is for Ethan, and this speaks insightfully to our desire to fully “know” others and our fear that we by nature can never really do so. Most movies present love as an idealized state one enters unwittingly—The One I Love presents it as a continually re-assessed choice.

All of this is very interesting, and for the most part well executed. Where the movie takes a turn is when it starts playing more literally with what's going on at the house. It starts raising questions about who/what the doubles are, why they're there, and different rules for interacting with them. I didn't lose interest at these parts—and I'm a little surprised that I wasn't more interested once it shifted over into this vein—but as soon as the movie starts asking more literal questions about this situation it starts to feel more familiar, more like an extended Twilight Zone episode or an inventive short film. It loses the thing that made it truly unique, which was the very instinct to avoid a more conventional suspense structure in favor of closer personal observations.




There is a lot to like about The One I Love, even as it changes gears late in the film. Moss and Duplass are both great, as is to be expected, and I like the ideas it's playing with. I wish I felt more surprised by where it eventually ends up, though there are some deeper implications to that final scene than what's being presented on the surface.

Lately I've become less concerned about boiling movies down to simply “good” or “bad,” and more with whether or not they leave me with something to think about. Even if the end result isn't totally successful in the way(s) the filmmakers intended, would I go back after watching a movie, given the chance, and use that time for something else? I wouldn't choose to do that here.

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Tail - The One I LoveThe One I Love (2014)

Directed by Charlie McDowell. Screenplay by Justin Lader.
Starring Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass.

Posted by Kyle Miner

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