Playing well with its intriguing surreal premise, “The One I Love” throws us a number of intriguing questions on love and relationship. Do we love our life partners as who they really are or as whom we think they are? And what can possibly happen if the difference between reality and wish suddenly become more visible than ever to both sides?
The movie begins with a seemingly mundane couple therapy between Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss), who are recently going through a difficult time due to the increasing distance between them. While there was a time when they felt lots of passion, excitement, and happiness between them, but now they look, well, accustomed to each other without much heat, and they flatly recall when they once attempted to energize their relationship through the recreation of their old adventure during one night.
After reminding them of the existence of mutual disharmony between them, their kind therapist (Ten Danson) recommends Ethan and Sophie a special place for problematic couples like them. Located somewhere outside the city, this remote place is where they can stay totally alone while having a nice private time of their own during weekend, and it seems this place did help many other couples, as reflected by several positive comments they wrote before leaving.
While not expecting a lot from their weekend retreat, Ethan and Sophie become a little more relaxed than before after they arrive in a big house which also has a guest house placed next to it for no apparent reason. They enjoy dinner together, and they also have a little fun with marijuana later, and it really feels like they can finally bring some sparks to their relationship as solving whatever problems they are struggling with.
Now I really have to be more tactful in describing how they come to sense something weird and then realize that they are indeed in a very strange situation. I had enough fun with the movie although I was partially informed about its plot beforehand, but one of its main pleasures comes from how it lets its surreal premise gradually emerge from ordinary realistic environment, so, though I will try as much as I can for avoiding potential spoilers in the next paragraphs of my review, I recommend you to watch the movie for yourself right now instead if you are interested enough at this point.
I will not go into details on a couple of incidents which baffle both Sophie and Ethan or what they eventually discover on the next day as trying to understand what is really going on between them. All I can tell you is that they are understandably disturbed and scared by their discovery at first but then they cannot help but be intrigued by this. It is true that they do not entirely understand the whole situation, but, as having some time to think straight at the diner in a nearby town, they agree with each other that this can be a good opportunity for their relationship. They are still not comfortable with what they have found, but Sophie is willing to try an experiment with it, and Ethan follows her decision despite his reluctance. After all, it is surely something new they have not tried before, isn’t it?
As they dig deeper into their situation with caution and curiosity, more strange things happen in front of them and us, the first-time director Charlie McDowell, who is the son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, did a smooth job in building up the uneasy sense of ambiguity inside the limited main background of his film. Justic Ladder’s screenplay is smart and witty as generating equal amounts of humor and tension from its main character’s extraordinary circumstance, and it wisely does not try to explain everything in the story as suggesting some sinister intention lurking around the background. Later in the story, Ethan is more disturbed to learn that someone made calls to his family and others close to him for some questions, and then he discovers a mysterious place whose purpose is not very clear – but it become more apparent to him and us that this weekend may be the last one for his relationship with Sophie.
The movie basically revolves around its two actors, and Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss give multi-faceted performances to be appreciated for subtleties and nuances. Their respective roles put them into a number of scenes tricky to handle for good reasons, but Duplass and Moss are believable in every step of theirs. We instantly accept them as a couple who has been accustomed to each other for years, and both actors have lots of fun with their challenging but interesting tasks, and their dynamic chemistry gets constantly shifted along the plot to our amusement. Duplass, who also participated in the production of the film, shows here again that he is a fun actor to watch besides his several good directorial efforts, and Moss, who was wonderful in TV series “Mad Men” as well as TV miniseries “Top of the Lake”, is particularly impressive at a certain moment of choice around the finale of the movie.
“The One I Love” is a small thriller drama worthwhile to watch for its odd mood and engaging main performances, and it also has one or two insightful things to tell you about marriage. As one of my acquaintances once pointed out, marriage needs something more than romance and heat, and sometimes you need to find a way to live with imperfections if you really want to preserve your marriage. Does our couple in the movie really find such a way in the end? Well, you figure it out for yourself.