The One I Love feels so real that you’ll automatically assume you’re before another wonderfully sarcastic and painfully awkward slice-of-life story, one that could have been written by Alexander Payne, Richard Linklater, Jonathan Levine or Lisa Cholodenko, until you realize that no, you’re watching something entirely different, something that doesn’t belong in any category that I can think of, something that combines perhaps all known genres and something that, as it turns out, only Justin Lader could write – for he’s the one that did. And this being the debut feature film of both Lader and director Charlie McDowell, it’s very surprising to discover halfway through The One I Love – that the two filmmakers know exactly what they’re doing.
I will reveal the absolute minimum about a plot that deserves utter secrecy. As IMDb says, The One I Love is about a married couple that witnesses their relationship fall apart, and does everything in their power to save it. They visit a therapist and sit through a few rather unsuccessful sessions, until they’re advised to go away for a weekend and focus on each other, spend some quality time together and try to remember all those things that attracted them to one another to begin with. Ethan and Sophie do just that, and so the next 80 minutes are spent with us watching the crazy things that happen to them in an idyllic guesthouse immersed in nature in some faraway place that may not really exist, although it looks and feels one hundred percent real.
Read at Unsung Films: Safety Not Guaranteed.
Feel free to watch the trailer for it doesn’t give away anything more than the brilliant atmosphere that Charlie McDowell creates in his film; as it’s made clear in the teaser, The One I Love carries off a Kaufman-meets-Jonze sensation, but what’s most impressive is that it doesn’t lose track of where it’s going and doesn’t just get lost in the weird. It has a story to tell – a bizarre and eccentric one, but with structure and meaning. And it tells it through sleek visuals and lingering shots, plenty of loving close-ups and cleverly placed music. Like Her, Safety Not Guaranteed or Ruby Sparks, nature seems to beautifully complement the supernatural element of these stories and reality to warmly embrace their wild atmosphere instead of killing it.
But Mark Duplass as Ethan, and Elisabeth Moss as Sophie, have a great deal to do with this. Their faces, as well as behavior, supposed problems and worries feel so genuine and believable, that they never become cartoons in a story that openly endorses weirdness. They keep it real, remain credible and make their audience feel as though some of these unfeasible scenarios could very well apply in real life. I find it enjoyable that both our protagonists don’t just automatically embrace the inexplicable but refuse to stay away from it either. They flirt with it, they’re drawn to it; but they remember what’s real. Until they forget – which comes naturally for the viewers too, as by that time, we’re cheering for fantasy as well.
There are only three people in The One I Love: Elisabeth Moss is Sophie, Mark Duplass is Ethan and Ted Danson is their therapist. But Ted Danson only does us the honour for the first ten minutes of the film, and after that we’re left with Moss and Duplass – two brilliant actors that seem to know exactly what’s required of their two peculiarly adaptable roles. But mainly, I should stress how great Moss is as Sophie; she evokes emotion in her viewers with every word she speaks or keeps within her. She communicates pain with her eyes, she comes back to jokes quickly, she smiles with lust and sarcasm, and she stays quiet, embracing the moment, when there’s just nothing to be said. From very early on, I became aware of how much Elisabeth Moss contributes to The One I Love, and I’m fairly certain that I don’t even know the half of what she’s capable of in general.
Watch the trailer for The One I Love here:
Watch The One I Love – the full movie – on Amazon Instant Video