I saw Charlie McDowell‘s The One I Love (VOD on 8.22) for the second time last night. I did so in preparation for a scheduled Thursday chat with Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss. I was delighted with my first encounter at last January’s Sundance Film Festival, but part of that excitement was about a “whoa!” element that kicks in at the 20-minute mark. I naturally figured it wouldn’t play as well the second time…wrong. I was just as taken if not more so, and I liked the final scene even more. No descriptions but I can at least say it involves bacon and the Mamas and the Papas’ “This Is Dedicated To The One I Love.” Somehow this scene was a so-so last January but it really worked last night.
I am telling you this is the best “real” relationship movie I’ve seen in eons. Because the underlying idea is that we all project ourselves as an attractive, high-energy person in the beginning of any relationship, and then we all kind of shift into someone closer to who we really are. That is a basic behavioral truth, and that’s why this film works so well — because it deals with this straight-on.
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.
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.