One I Love, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/31/14 13:43:44

"Very clever, if a little fuzzy."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are filmmakers that like to explain all the details of how their plot devices work, there are those who like to keep a little mystery, and then there are the makers of "The One I Love", who seem extremely fuzzy on the whole concept. Fortunately, their concept if a good one, yielding plenty of laughs and maybe a little bit of thought, even if by the end the audience has no idea how it works.

It starts prosaically enough; Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are having trouble in their marriage and nothing seems to help. Finding very little he can do in the office, their therapist (Ted Danson) tells them he has something that might help - a nice little property they can use as a retreat. They get there and do find themselves reconnecting - but when they happen upon the first house, the experience becomes almost too good to be true.

I won't spoil what they find there, but the good news is that the characters don't take long to catch on, and can spend half the movie investigating what's happening, although from very different directions: Ethan wants to know what's going on and how it works, while Sophie is mostly looking to just get the experience. It's kind of interesting how that dynamic plays out - while on the one hand writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell seem to give a little too much early credence to Sophie's complaints that Ethan wanting explanations ruins the experience, her diving right in after what are basically surface-level pleasures does not come across as particularly healthy, either. Or at least, not good for the marriage. The film doesn't exactly play out as an examination of the two mindsets and whether they're compatible - it kind of churns in the background - but it's something that can be projected onto it if that's how one is inclined to approach the story.

Interestingly, for a movie that plays as a high-concept romantic comedy in the early going, it gets reasonably serious quickly. There's amusement to be had - shell-game bits and chances for both Duplass and Moss to play fantasy versions of their respective characters, and it never actually gets completely dark, but McDowell and Lader are certainly in touch with the horror-movie side of their story. They do a nice job of inching things forward before a twist that changes things up, and while the way things play out at this point really could use a little more explanation, it's nicely tense, and there's something to be said for how that tension comes almost entirely from the characters rather than arbitrary fantasy machinations.

It also gives Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss even more good things to do. The film is already basically a two-person show - Ted Danson has an amusing five or ten minutes at the start - but the last act ratchets that up. That's when Duplass gets to break out a little bit of an extra edge to a character he had been playing as alternating between being somewhat neurotic and exaggeratedly laid-back, and it makes for an even more fascinating alternation. Moss gets to do the same but it's a bit subtler, not playing quite so much off sharp contrasts the way Duplass is but turning in a performance that, after being a bit broader early on, really deserves a second look.

And I'm eager to give "The One I Love" a second look both to try and pick up more details and, conversely, to better appreciate the performances I was taking a bit for granted because I was relatively plot-oriented the first time through. It's a nifty little movie that doesn't have all the answers, but makes the process of finding them interesting.

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