We have to address The One I Love’s premise up front, given that it’s 60 percent of the movie. The rules of spoilers needn’t apply – it’s like trying to avoid discussing the shark in Jaws because it shows up only halfway through.
The One I Love presents a peculiar scenario, one with its own rules and insights about loyalty and marriage. It’s about a couple that meets their true doppelgangers, forced to literally confront and reflect on themselves and their relationship. Seriously, this couple, while stuck in their therapist’s vacation home, meet cooler, sexier, more competent duplicates in the guesthouse. Part softball sci-fi, part romantic dramedy, the film is ultimately an indie farce. Now that we’ve gotten the rub out of the way, this is going to be easier to talk about. There. Isn’t that better?
So like, how did this couple get to that?
Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass) have been married for years. Opening with Ethan’s narration, he describes their relationship and a specific incident where they recently snuck into a backyard pool after hours. They did this because they did it before they were married, and it was a fun, spontaneous, sexy little moment where they wound up getting caught. It became a watershed moment for the two. Presently, Ethan and Sophie have been concerned about the diminishing returns in their relationship, so this might re-capture that enthusiasm they had for each other. It doesn’t work.
We realize that Ethan’s describing this while in couples’ therapy with Sophie. They’re hitting the skids; you can hear it in their defensive replies and tense rapport. Their therapist (Ted Danson in a quick cameo) suggests a getaway house for the two as a reinvigoration.
From there The One I Love is heady, conceptual relationship stuff. The scenario is as follows: When Ethan’s in the guest house with fake Sophie, real Sophie must sit outside and the guest house locks down. Same thing goes when Sophie wants to meet with fake Ethan. The fake versions are idealized manifestations of the two, alluring in how perfect they are. The fakes make the real people look dull, as they take on all the best qualities of Ethan and Sophie, from being good looking by comparison to having much more interesting conversations. Real Ethan is wimpy and bespectacled. Fake Ethan has cooler hair and swagger, and the real Sophie digs it, albeit guiltily. It’s a fascinating concept, right? To actually look at yourself, your best self, and being left wanting. Maybe it leaves a person wanting to better them self. Or, resent what they’ve become. As a basic psychological workout, The One I Love is part wish fulfillment, part heavy-handed mirror metaphor. What helps is the two leads giving four wonderful, distinctive performances, not to mention the casual tone of the film. The One I Love isn’t played strictly as a romantic quandary or chilling sci-fi genre trip, but as both and more. In that sense, the film may be over-satisfied with its own idea.
At least it fascinates until the rules of the game break and the film settles on being a generic “will they/won’t they” kind of thriller. Why would a great movie premise give up on itself with stupid battles and chases in the final act? Granted, The One I Love is an emotional battle, but whatever, it’s still showy and weak stuff. Oh well. Still, that’s forgivable given how phenomenal Duplass and Moss are.
Duplass, the mumblecore veteran, nails his Ethans as both loser and suave dude. He draws distinct lines between the two, which definitely helps elevate as well as relieve the concept. Same goes for Moss. As real Sophie, she is understandably forlorn and somewhat defeated by her marriage. Yet, when she appears as the fake Sophie, it’s like she’s a Stepford wife, ready to please with eggs, bacon, and nice nightgowns. On the strength of Moss and Duplass, The One I Love really has something to say about what people think of their own love.