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When it made its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year, the unconventional romantic comedy The One I Love drew praise. Yet the resulting reviews were shockingly vague, even when describing its basic plotline. I admit, this--coupled with a cast made up solely of Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, and Ted Danson--intrigued me. So I promptly put The One I Love near the top of my must-see list for this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Once I had actually seen the film, and finally understood the dilemma of the critics who have come before me.
The One I Love is a movie with a strange and brilliant plot twist that kicks off its second act. But being unaware of the specifics of this twist beforehand definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the film. The surprise was terrific and thrilling. However, it's almost impossible to thoroughly review the film without getting into the details of this twist. After wrestling with dilemma for several days, I decided I would leave the choice of this spoiler to you, my reader. As such, the next paragraph will be a purposefully vague review that will keep you unspoiled. But if you simply must know the details of what critics are buzzing about, then proceed through and past the next paragraph, and dig into the The One I Love's wonderful narrative ride.
Penned by Justin Lader, The One I Love stars Duplass and Moss as Ethan and Sophie. A married couple on the brink of divorce, they seek out the help of an unconventional therapist who recommends a weekend away at a very special vacation house, complete with gorgeous views, outdoor pool, and even a spacious guesthouse. It's within this intimate setting that most of the story unfolds, and Duplass and Moss prove pitch-perfect scene partners, deftly painting the portrait of a relationship in need of some serious change. It's their struggle to decide on what kind of change is demanded that makes for the movie's best drama, while the pair's lived-in chemistry makes for its funniest--and most painfully relatable--moments.
(Seriously, last chance: spoilers ahead.)
The performances in The One I Love are truly spectacular, feeling grounded and kinetic even when things go weird. See, that innocuous guesthouse I mentioned has a bit of magic to it. When one member of this dysfunctional couple enters it alone, they are met by a double of their spouse. Except this guest house version lacks the resentments and baggage of their long-time lover. They are smarter, happier, healthier, and more fashionable. While this discovery initially freaks both Ethan and Sophie out, the plot thickens when they react to this inexplicable situation in totally different ways. One rushes to embrace the experience and all the joys it might bring; the other grows increasingly suspicious and plays detective/killjoy. It's a dynamic that shows us why these two are having such problems to begin with. Plus it makes for great and inventive comedic setups of spying and hiding.
Shockingly, this is director Charlie McDowell's feature film debut. Aside from the presumably low budget tipped by the location, there's no sign this was made by a first-timer. The One I Love feels like it was crafted by a confident hand and a shrewd storyteller. Everytime the plot's gimmick risked growing stale, Lader and McDowell take it in a fresh and fascinating direction. Yet, it's an intimately told story made dazzling by Duplass and Moss, who pull double duty as their main characters and those character's tweaked doubles. Though only minor changes are made to their physical appearances between these roles (the way they part their hair, for instance), it's never unclear who is who because Duplass and Moss have so distinctively created each role. It's remarkable fun to watch, and feels like a breath of fresh air for the romantic-comedy genre, being both witty and rebellious.
All in all, The One I Love is sophisticated, spirited, and scintillatingly entertaining. If you miss it at Tribeca, be sure to keep an eye out for its eventual theatrical release, courtesy of The Weinstein Company.