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The One I Love

September 5, 2014
The One I Love

The filmmakers behind The One I Love insist that you should go in completely cold to get the most out of it. I think that the outlines of the action can be described without spoiling the whole movie, but just in case: it’s good. Go ahead and check it out without reading anything else I say if you want to preserve every single surprise. If you still want to hear a bit more before taking the plunge, read on.

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are seeing a couples therapist (Ted Danson, not that we see much of him). He tries various approaches, with little progress. At last he suggests they take a vacation together, and even suggests a rental property. It feels like a last ditch effort on his part, but he swears that every couple who’s tried it has come back renewed.

The place is beautiful, indeed. Ethan and Sophie get their chance to escape their day-to-day world, trying to get back to the couple that fell in love so many years ago, but the going is rough. One minute, Ethan is warm and affectionate; the next, he’s asleep on the couch, claiming he’s been there for hours. One minute, Sophie is accommodating, even making the bacon for breakfast she normally proscribes; the next, she’s chilly and tense again. It’s two steps forward, two steps back.

It soon becomes apparent — and here’s your last chance to stop without hearing even the twist that comes early on — that there’s something weird about the guest house. When Ethan or Sophie go inside alone, they find the other one already in there. But it’s not the other one, it’s some idealized version of the other one. Better-Ethan paints and doers situps; Better-Sophie is made up, even glamorous, first thing in the morning.

Obviously this allows us a great insight into their relationship: what does each of them want — or think they want — from the other one? Just as obviously, they’re not about to approach it like that, and that lets us get to know these characters even better. Ethan immediately wants to dissect this thing, to determine what’s really going on. He mistrusts it, and wants to experiment and turn up evidence. Sophie, on the other hand, wants to enjoy it while it lasts. And these two motives are themselves at odds.

Director Charlie McDowell builds the mystery calmly and effectively. Justin Lader’s script is tight for the most part, with just a little bit of slack that takes some suspension of disbelief. The one real catch is that as the film gets more interested in the mystery of the guest house, it largely abandons the idea of fixing the relationship itself. Ethan and Sophie’s underlying issues are never really resolved, and so the ending — as fun as it is — feels emotionally hollow given where the whole thing started.

Still, it’s a marvelous work of cinematic alchemy. Just take a few, simple ingredients: a couple, a strange location, the one key secret. Put them together in just the right way and we get something fun and fascinating, and even magical.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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