“The One I Love” explores love and change
“The One I Love” is a film that illustrates the diversity of the romantic comedy category. A significant part of the film explores the differences between idealized versions of a partner. Many times relationships struggle because the people in them refuse to account for change.
It’s more than simply growing apart or not spending enough time as a couple—long-term relationships often fail because the person someone is at the beginning of the relationship gradually vanishes and a new person, made up of an accumulation of new and varied experiences takes their place. It is a universal truth that a person is large and contains multitudes. The reality of change does not invalidate the person one used to be, and an honest and understanding partner experiences their own growth over the course of a lifetime.
However, there is always a wistful desire to spend time in the past, to remember where we came from and sometimes the desire to return there can cause resentment. “The One I Love” spends some time developing this theme, as the characters encounter themselves at what seems like a different time in their relationship, a time when the world wasn’t so complicated and harsh. If the film had stayed with those themes, it would have been a perfectly satisfactory romance. But the last 30 minutes or so takes those ideas and throws them under the bus. The less the turn is discussed the better—viewers of the “The One I Love” are better served with little knowledge beyond the premise.
The premise is formulaic. A couple (Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) are seeking counseling for their marriage, which has become rocky after a brief moment of infidelity of the part of Ethan. Of course, the briefness of the moment and its importance mean different things to Sophie, who justifiably feels betrayed. Ethan, in another typical move, merely wants to apologize and move on. He tries to recreate spontaneous romantic experiences from their relationship in order to return them to a simpler time. Sophie realizes that this is not possible—the gesture feels empty, like a hometown football game 15 years after high school graduation. The shades of memory fade from the glaring presence of unfamiliar faces among familiar landmarks.
Their therapist suggests visiting a hideaway in the mountains, together facing the reality of their marriage. He claims that he’s never had a couple return unsatisfied. Upon arrival, Ethan and Sophie explore the grounds and discover something strange in the guesthouse.
When they enter alone, Ethan and Sophie encounter what seems like past versions of their partner, a cosmic anomaly that might allow them to fall in love once again. At least, that’s the idea. Ethan, who is the more realistic and uncompromising of the two, wants only to understand the aberration. Sophie wants to experience it fully, leading to arguments and hurt feelings.
Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass do an exceptional job at playing two different versions of themselves. Duplass is well versed in playing the affable, cool guy from his time on “The League” but he is equally effective as the semi-unlikable Ethan. It’s fascinating, because the audience must go through the exercise of determining how these two characters are sides of the same coin and what a person must go through to change from one to the other. Is it the passage of time, the change in attitude, and the worldweariness of living that make Ethan more and more severe? Is the fun Ethan still inside the man we meet at the outset of the film?
Moreover, are our past, idealized selves still inside us? Moss doesn’t get to test these ideas this as much as Duplass, as the questions are explored more through her eyes than Ethan’s. But again, given the last half hour, do these questions even matter? It’s hard to know exactly what the filmmakers were intending.
This confusion about the overall theme of the film is likely what makes it so compelling. It’s one that can be discussed and dissected. It needs more than one viewing to digest the subtle clues to the truth of the situation. The film is executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, leaders in the so called “mumblecore” genre of filmmaking, a name that makes little sense in regard to the films they make.
This might be my favorite from the pair, but much credit should go to director Charlie McDowell for making such an effective film with such a small cast. Sometimes, the simplest films are the best.
The film is available on VOD (also in select theaters, just none in Chattanooga as of this review.)