Charlie McDowell‘s The One I Love, the Mark Duplass-Elizabeth Moss two-hander which screened last night at Park City’s MARC theatre, delivers a highly unexpected, Twilight Zone-ish twist about 20 minutes in. (I know — the words “highly unexpected” are uncool in themselves but what am I supposed to say?) I didn’t know zip before I saw it last night, and I loved grappling with a fresh and lively idea. I hate spoiling but how the fuck do I get around it? Others clearly aren’t trying very hard. The headline of a recently-posted L.A. Times interview piece with Moss (authored by Mark Olsen) is about as unsubtle as it gets. (It ostensibly refers to Moss having two films at Sundance but don’t try that shit with me — I know what they’re doing.)
“What attracted me to the movie was the relationship aspects of it,” Moss told Olsen. “The concept behind the quote-unquote twist is the idea of who you present in a relationship, how you project one person in the beginning and then kind of shift to something else, maybe more who you really are.”
I’ll say this much: Moss and Duplass play Ethan and Sophie, a couple who visit a kind of therapeutic country retreat in an effort to heal their damaged relationship (largely due to a brief episode of infidelity on Ethan’s part). Early on something happens that either (a) re-acquaints the couple with alternate, fantasy-projection, somewhat more attractive versions of themselves or (b) reminds them of the people they presented themselves as when they first met.
We all put on our best sexy/attractive face when we first meet and go out with someone we like and want to be with. Down the road the reality of who we really are eventually comes out, of course. The therapy that Ethan and Sophie experience at the retreat is surreal, but the film is basically saying that when we stop presenting our sexy/giving/open-hearted selves (a process that ends because it’s so exhausting) and come down to earth, we inevitably disappoint our partners. The One I Love is about re-connecting with the person we fell in love with initially and/or ditching the one we’ve become disappointed with since.
So far, so good. I was really enjoying the metaphor that the film fiddles around with for the first 45 or 50 minutes of its 91-minute length. But I have to say that I wasn’t with it as much during the final 30. In my humble opinion the Rod Serling mirror action becomes too literal, but it didn’t throw me too badly. There are at least two problems (one minor, one huge) contained in the last 30 minutes that nag as you leave the theatre. But the metaphor is solid and true, and the first 45 or 50 minutes are worth it despite the head-scratching, not-quite-satisfying finale.
McDowell, screenwriter Justin Lader, producer Mel Eslyn and executive producer Duplass should be proud and satisfied for at least delivering an entertaining comedy that is clearly unusual and at least semi-thoughtful (even if they don’t quite bring it home). The One I Love is a great date flick — no question. Definitely something to kick around with your significant other and friend over drinks. It should sell.