Let’s just get this out of the way first: The One I Love is a great movie to watch, but an almost impossible one to review — not because it is impenetrable or has the kind of built-in audience that doesn’t give a dingo’s kidney about critics’ opinions (it’s neither of those, by the way), but simply because its clever premise and oddball story hinges on a series of make-or-break twists that require the viewer to go in cold. Do yourself a favor and see this one completely spoiler-free.
In a nutshell (because that’s really all that can be given without giving too much away) it goes like this: Married thirtysomethings Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) attempt to repair their fractured relationship with the aid of a marriage counselor (Ted Danson), who sends them on a retreat to a private house in the sun-drenched California countryside. After their first night there, an unexpected, inexplicable, and thoroughly odd chain of events ensues. Let’s just say their road to resolution takes some serious left turns.
Ethan and Sophie are a stock rom-com/rom-dram couple who have gone from a passionate relationship to a dull and routine one tainted by infidelity and resentment. It’s a heavier load than the above synopsis would lead one to believe, Moss and Duplass keep the pair from feeling flat and lifeless. There’s a lot to these characters, and the duo superbly explore every nook and cranny of their characters’ personalities, all of those hopes, fears, insecurities, resentments, expectations, and desires that relationships rise and fall upon — boy, do they.
Director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader both make impressive feature film debuts here, impressively juggling a very nuanced and tricky story with sharp shifts in tone, and consistently pull the rug out from under us with more than a couple of bait-and-switch moments. It flounders a bit during the final act, as so many movies do, but not terribly so. More importantly, their observations are sharp and cut to the quick.
Think of it as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as interpreted by Luis Buñuel and filtered through The Twilight Zone, and and you kinda sorta get the picture — but not quite. It’s a great date movie — just don’t see it on a first date.