When Mark Duplass and Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss first sit and discuss their relationship in a couples therapy session, audiences will feel they have a fair idea of where The One I Love (2014) is headed. A romantic dramedy of sorts with hints of mumblecore, in which the aforementioned duo bicker before adorably reconciling.
The great thing about Charlie McDowell’s debut feature – and scribe Justin Lader’s first screenplay – is that it ostensibly meets those expectations, whilst confounding them in gloriously confident fashion with a high concept twist on the material. This is a rom-com very much set in the Twilight Zone, and one that should – with any luck – receive a cinema release here in UK.
Ardour has quite clearly cooled for couple Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss). A past indiscretion has cast a lengthy shadow over their marriage and efforts to reignite the spark – like a failed attempt to recreate their exhilarating first date – are simply not working. As a result, they pair have ended up on the couch – or rather at the piano – of an esteemed marriage counsellor (Ted Danson) who shows them just how out of tune they are with one another. Ethan needs to move on without reliving his past duplicity and Sophie cannot do the former without discussing the latter. In the hope of rekindling their early passion, the therapist packs them off to spend the weekend at a beautiful cottage. To reveal much more of what happens would be unwise, as The One I Love is a film undoubtedly best viewed cold.
Duplass and Moss make a great double-act, and are the only people on screen from the moment they arrive at the retreat. Duplass is great as the emotionally unavailable Ethan, able to admit his guilt but unwilling to talk it through with the wife he idolises. He subsequently charms as a man trying desperately to be the husband that Sophie truly desires. To say that he’s outperformed by Moss is not to do him a disservice. She provides a fantastic turn as a woman torn; struggling to forgive and yearning for the man she used to love, whilst at the same time being a woman terrified of losing her soulmate. That the characters are so rich is a fantastic achievement from the first time creators who have crafted an authentic and satisfying relationship.
The One I Love is filled with nostalgia and explores the desire to sculpt one’s spouse into the perfect partner, whilst also balancing outlandish elements that could easily topple over if not carefully handled. The result, aided by a pitch perfect score, is an impressively original rom-com that seeps slowly into thought-provoking (and slightly eerie) drama via surreal sci-fi farce. Reminiscent of Jake Schreier’s Robot & Frank (2012) in its refined use of genre to tell an otherwise conventional story, The One I Love is definitely one that is worth checking out should the chance arise.
Sundance London 2014 takes place at the O2 Arena from 25-27 April. For more of our coverage, follow this link.