What if I told you “The One I Love” is about a married couple who take a weekend retreat to restore vitality to their strained relationship? Your interest would probably not be particularly aroused. But what if I added that when they arrive at the country estate with its charming guest house, they discover a “Twilight Zone”-style peculiarity that could be just the thing their marriage needs? Now we’re talking!
Alas, I am not allowed to tell you that. Forget I said anything. Ever since its premiere at Sundance in early 2014, the film’s handlers have been urging writers not to reveal its “twist” — by which they mean its premise. Seriously, it’s 13 minutes in that something first seems amiss, and only a few minutes later that the whole situation is laid out for us. That’s not a twist. It’s what the movie is about! How is anyone supposed to talk about the movie if they can’t talk about what the movie is about?!
Anyway, it’s a playful story with eerie undertones and implications, written by Justin Lader, directed by first-timer Charlie McDowell, and starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as the couple, Ethan and Sophie. Apart from a few minutes with their therapist (Ted Danson), they are basically the only people in the film, and they carry it easily. Duplass and Moss are personable, smart actors with an easy rapport, and the characters are nicely defined. We get the sense that Ethan and Sophie’s marital problems aren’t devastating or insurmountable. They love each other; they just need a tune-up. They must confront the idealized versions they have of one another and determine what changes or expectations are realistic.
Speaking of reality, it seems for a while that one or both of the spouses might not be perceiving it accurately. This proves false, however: what they think is happening really is happening. And once that peculiar reality is accepted, the film lets them have fun with it. They address their bizarre situation the way two sensible, intelligent adults would — which means playing games with it, testing its limits, and looking for loopholes.
It ends up being a thin story (again, this could be a single hour-long “Twilight Zone,” or maybe “Supernatural”), but it’s a lightly funny and vaguely disturbing look at the workings of a relationship, and perhaps at the different priorities men and women have when looking for a partner. The fun part will be after you’ve seen it, when you can discuss it openly and debate whether the ending is happy.
B+ (1 hr., 31 min.; )