Who and how we love through the context of idealized versions of ourselves and our romantic partners is the central premise, told rather mysteriously, around director Charlie McDowell's (son of Malcolm) first feature film, The One I Love. McDowell uses light romantic comedy touches and a bizarre metaphysical situation to explore marital relationship dynamics and our own wishes for others quite fluidly and thoughtfully.
Mark Duplass (also a producer) and Elisabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a troubled married couple on an isolated weekend retreat, in what is mostly a single location set film without much (including other actors), aside from each other, to play off of. While Ted Danson (the only other actor in the film) appears briefly as their therapist getting them quickly off to a secluded weekend getaway and rekindle their marriage. What follows is a bizarrely mind-bending yet illuminating dark comedy/drama with strong allusions to the works of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze (think Being John Malkovich). It speaks to the duo’s captivating performances that propel Dear Girls Above Me writer Justin Lader's heady script to interesting places as things don't appear quite as they seem.
McDowell and Lader use light science fiction (mostly relayed through clever dialogue and editing) and scenes of true suspense (done through splendid acting and blocking) to play on our ideals and hopes of marriage. We see how the couple wishes each other really was in slight fits of fantasy to explore their ideals and desires outside of reality. While Sophie quickly buys into the strange yet enlightening circumstances of their bizarre weekend vacation, falling in love and buying into the mystery, Ethan takes a much more suspicious, paranoid take, trying to figure out the central mystery. Double play and clever edits are used to express marital anxieties and issues of fidelity between reality and fantasy.
The way The One I Love uses its mix of of comedy and thriller so smartly dissects how we see our collective relationships and identities in an effective, thoughtful manner. McDowell and Lader have crafted a tightly constructed, emotionally honest film about marriage, full of humour and nuance. It's a refreshingly inventive take on modern love and the nature of monogamous relationships and how we choose to see ourselves through our better halves.
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