Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Charlie McDowell
Stars: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson.
Mark Duplass is one of the darlings of the American independent film scene and one of the key figures of the whole so-called mumblecore scene, and his low budget films like Hump Day, Your Sister’s Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed, etc, have found their niche with festival audiences.
Marriages in crisis has been a consistent theme in many movies released this year, but The One I Love certainly puts a unique spin on the familiar theme that has underpinned lightweight numerous romantic comedies. In this micro-budget independent feature that plays like an extension of the short film Couples’ Therapy, Duplass plays Ethan whose marriage to Sophie (Elisabeth Moss, best known for playing Peggy Olson in the popular tv series Mad Men, etc) in in trouble. The couple seek help from a marriage counsellor (played by Ted Danson, from Cheers, CSI, etc), who suggests that they spend a weekend in a beautiful but isolated getaway spot to work out their differences. He claims that other couples who have gone there have healed their relationship and emerged “renewed”.
Ethan and Sophie head off for the weekend. Everything seems to go well and they begin to enjoy each other’s company again in this relaxing environment. But their idyllic retreat soon turns into something more surreal and unsettling as they come face to face with perfect clones of themselves. Ethan meets a version of Sophie who is closer to the woman he first fell in love with, while Sophie finds herself with a more easy going version of Ethan.
This dull and flat drama marks the debut feature film for author turned filmmaker Charlie McDowell (whose only other film was the 2006 short film Bye Bye Benjamin) and his lack of experience shows in the uneven tone of the film and its leaden pacing. There are moments here that should have had more energy and tension, but they seem flat. The staging does seem rather theatrical in nature. The recent low budget Australian film The Infinite Man tackled a similar mix of genres with much more flair and imagination, and was more enjoyable and accessible. And we also recently had the offbeat drama The Double, which saw a bemused Jesse Eisenberg coping with a doppleganger that took over his life. It’s hard to work out exactly what kind of audience McDowell was aiming for here.
The One I Love is a character study, with some keen observations on human nature and the familiar theme of marital discord. It is a two handed drama, and it comes across a bit like a froth French farce, albeit it without the belly laughs. Duplass and Moss both play dual roles here, and bring their flawed characters nicely to life. The dialogue was largely improvised during rehearsals, and Duplass and Moss bounce off one another effortlessly. Duplass has a likeable screen presence, and his Ethan is by far the most sympathetic character here. Moss comes across as cold and aloof at times.
The One I Love is ultimately a bland and forgettable blend of romance and low rent sci-fi that has elements of the classic drama Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and The Twilight Zone about it, with a touch of The Stepford Wives thrown in for good measure. It has been written by Justin Lader, and in his first feature length script he seems to be channeling the twisted spirit of the likes of those other mind bending filmmakers like Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonez and Michel Gondry. The self-aware and mischievous script sometimes subverts audience expectations, but it is hard to see too many caring greatly about the characters or their dilemma. This is a film that will certainly divide audiences.