SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | January 31, 2014
Director: Charlie McDowell
Writer: Justin Lader
Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson
Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love is truly a film that deserves to be seen with no prior knowledge. If that does not dissuade you from reading on, it is certainly your loss. At the bequest of the filmmakers, very little will actually be revealed in this review; but, regardless, any amount of information is too way much.
Still reading? Well, consider yourself duly warned…
The sheer adrenaline rush that Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) felt during their first date has long since gone. So, when a last ditch effort to save their relationship — by attempting to relive that first date a second time — falls flat, they decide that it is time to see a marriage counselor (Ted Danson).
Ethan and Sophie have drifted so far from musical synchronicity, they have practically become tone deaf in their relationship. It is clear that they are in desperate need of excitement and drama in order to rekindle their spark. Seemingly beyond hope, their therapist has one final plan to save Ethan and Sophie, so he sends them off to a secluded vacation estate.
Provided with zero instructions and with no one around to guide them, Ethan and Sophie try to figure things out on their own. They begin to make themselves at home in the master house, tentatively venturing off to explore other areas of the property.
As the purpose of this getaway takes shape, it grows apparent that Ethan and Sophie are here to examine the way they in which they have developed idealized versions of their partners. There is no way for Ethan or Sophie to ever achieve the level of perfection that their partner now expects, hence the failure of their relationship. They find themselves at a crossroads, to either accept each other’s faults or continue to live in their romanticized fantasies of perfection.
Though The One I Love is nicely set up as a romantic comedy, it is armed with an alarmingly intense and disconcerting air that hovers on the brink of mutating into a horror film. The dramatically sharp turns are deftly orchestrated, never giving away too much information at any one time. Seamlessly blending reality with imagination, even the most absurd qualities of the narrative are portrayed so subtly that they it feels unnervingly authentic. This high concept narrative takes its audience on a rapidly-paced and perplexing journey that is sure to make some heads spin, but it is totally worth the wackadoodle trip.
Essentially playing with the natural and idealized versions of their characters, Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass are miraculously unerring in their duplicities. These delicately mapped performances are by far the most impressive of both actors’ careers thus far. Moss and Duplass are tasked with being onscreen for a significant majority of the film; and, other than Ted Danson, they are the only actors. The One I Love is a film about the intricacies and dualities of personalities, the recognition of the slightest details. The film’s success rests solely in the hands of Moss and Duplass to effectively hide or exaggerate the most minuscule ticks and foibles of their characters.
McDowell also limits the number of locations in this artfully conceived chamber piece, setting a majority of the film inside the main house and guest house. Though the two houses purposefully possess their own moods and personalities, McDowell does not want the locations to distract the viewer from Moss and Duplass’ performances.