By Todd Perkins, Staff Movie Reviewer
There are so many films about love and romance, marriage and divorce, and ultimately, connection and intimacy, but rarely are these elements explored in such a thoughtful or inventive way as in director Charlie McDowell’s new film “The One I Love”. Rather than rehashing similar story developments or plot procedures when depicting a relationship between a man and woman teetering on the verge of a breakup, McDowell and company turn to a surprisingly innovative storytelling device that challenges previous escapades into the romantic dramedy genre and sets out to engage their audience by adding a bit of a “Twilight Zone” spin into the standard formula.
Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as Ethan and Sophie, a married couple experiencing doubt about their future together. After numerous sessions with a marriage therapist (Ted Danson), he recommends that they try an isolated couples retreat where he says that everyone sent there leaves renewed and in love. This intrigues them and after ten short minutes of screen time they are off to try one last effort to save their marriage. Once there, however, things begin to occur that alters their set course and dramatically affects their comfortable romantic getaway. To reveal any more would ruin the fun of watching it for the first time.
While there are some slightly convoluted elements in this film that could potentially turn off some audience members, the thrill of seeing a cinematic attempt to turn viewer expectation on its head is a sheer delight. This is writer Justin Lader’s first feature length work, but it does not show. Lader expertly weaves these two lead characters within an unexpected framework in such a way that will surprise viewers even if they predict key plot points to come. What McDowell and Lader achieve is allowing filmgoers to believe that these two characters would react to such strange occurrences in such a way as they do in the film, and more importantly, relate to these characters despite such odd circumstances.
The main reason that these characters come across as so authentic and identifiable is because of the performances of Duplass and Moss. Moss has garnered acclaim for her role as Peggy Olson on AMC’s TV series “Mad Men”, but her work here reveals a different side to her. She seems more natural and relaxed as a woman who starts to see a different side to her husband and does not know how to react to her new feelings. Duplass, who is also a known writer-director for films such as “Cyrus” and “Jay, Who Lives at Home”, truly shines as he explores two sides of a man frustrated with the hand he has been dealt in his relationship.
Ethan and Sophie seem like people you would come across in everyday life, which makes their story all the more satisfying. McDowell steadily paces his film so that his audience can become invested, not only in the stranger aspects of the story, but in the development of the two central characters. “The One I Love” may not be mentioned in critics top 10 lists later on in the year, but it will be a movie that filmgoers will continue thinking about many days after watching the film.