SIFF 2014: ‘The One I Love’ Movie Review

by Warren Cantrell on June 10, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Solid Rock Fist Up]

What is a relationship if not a slow, inevitable reveal of who a person is at the base of their very essence? Of course, none of these hidden traits are on display early on, during the “interview” stage, when two people are doing their best to present idealized versions of themselves in what amounts to a mating ritual sales pitch. Yet as time goes on, and the fatigue of this charade wears people down, the genuine version peeks out and takes over for the performer who can no longer maintain the ideal.

This notion that we are all putting on a show during the first phase of a relationship, and that this false presentation must inevitably end, is at the crux of The One I Love, a movie that explores the necessities of living honestly in a partnership with another human being. The film opens in the office of a couple’s counselor (a great cameo by Ted Danson), who is struggling to establish some kind of working foundation for growth, discovery, and healing for his patients. The couple in his office, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), are struggling through a romantic crisis, and can’t seem to access the magnetism and excitement that characterized the first couple of years of their relationship. As their therapist works through a few simple bonding exercises, it becomes clear that simply opening up and/or exploring their issues isn’t going to cut it.

Instead, he sends them to a secluded vacation home in Ojai, California, where he says a number of his other patients have reported a miraculous turn-around in their relationships. In need of a holiday, and out of ideas, Ethan and Sophie agree to go on the trip.

And this is where this review has to pull up in terms of plot exposition, for to say anything more would ruin one of the best reveals of the picture, and the central conceit of the film through its second and third acts. It should suffice to say that Ethan and Sophie discover something amiss at the vacation rental, yet it is a development that challenges both to rethink what it is that they’re looking for in a partner. Squeamish viewers need not worry, for this doesn’t turn into a slasher flick or a suspense thriller, but more of a low-level sci-fi exploration of the durability of relationships (think along the lines of Groundhog Day or Ghost).

Moss and Duplass are superb as the leads of The One I Love, and they need to be, for the picture relies exclusively on them throughout the majority of the picture (it’s largely a single-location shoot). There’s a defensive uneasiness that characterizes their interactions early on, which says everything that needs saying about where these two were, are, and are going. Their relationship and subsequent marriage was built on bedrock composed of spontaneity and excitement, which leaves little room for the practical components of their personalities to develop. Indeed, they both fell so hard for the idealized versions of each other that the painful realities of what existed beneath the surface threatens the core of their relationship by the time the film catches up with them.

And that’s what they are forced to confront when they get out to Ojai, albeit in a most unexpected manner. A romantic comedy with something of a sci-fi head-scratcher thrown into the mix, The One I Love is funny, engaging, unique, and filled with unexpected twists that should keep audiences guessing right up to the end. Again, it’s difficult to write much about this film without giving away its carefully placed “whoa” moment, which is a big part of the fun. And while the movie never goes into specific detail about the plot-point’s particulars, this never seriously threatens to derail the film.

The closing night feature of this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, The One I Love ended things on the perfect note, for the picture entertained as much as it provoked serious thought and consideration. Truly, what more could you ask of a film and film festival?

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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