The feature film debut of Charlie McDowell, The One I Love is a mish-mash of genres, mixing up romance with comedy, drama with elements of fantasy and science fiction. A look at the struggle of love and the results of poison in a relationship, this is one of those movies that hints at many things but also allows the viewer to conclude things on their own, interpreting aspects in their own way, and that’s something I enjoy in film.
Independent mainstay Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair) plays Ethan, and Elizabeth Moss (On The Road) plays Sophie, a couple who are going through therapy due to something Ethan did that threw a spanner into the works of their partnership and Sophie’s trust of him. They are given a chance to retreat to a secluded house in order to work through their issues, and in the grounds of the house is a guest-house. Initially they begin to attempt to work through their problems, opening dialogue with one another and trying to explore their relationship in the quiet home they have access to for the weekend. It isn’t long before they are faced with a very bizarre dilemma though, circumstances that are beyond their fathoming. Sophie goes to the guesthouse and has a great evening with Ethan, allowing her to feel happier with him than she has in a long time. When she goes back to the main house, she finds that Ethan is already there and when she discusses the evening they have had, he appears to know nothing about it. Ethan then heads to the guest-house and finds that Sophie is there, cooking breakfast for him and treating him in a much more laid-back and less-standoffish manner than she has been doing. The two begin to realise that something is going on when neither can recall the other’s experiences, and we learn that in the guesthouse exists Ethan and Sophies’ doubles. Ethan can only see the double of Sophie, and Sophie only the double of Ethan, and the doubles, for lack of a better term, are pretty-much the idealised versions of what they want in one another. Things begin to take a turn for the even-more-peculiar when Sophie finds herself attracted more to the double of Ethan, who is charming, open and athletic, than she is to her actual Husband, Ethan, who wears glasses, has a more serious mood and has a past that makes is hard for Sophie to feel good around him. Ethan struggles with this and finds himself becoming jealous, all the while the double of Sophie is happier to be around him and more open to his company, though he feels awkward, like she isn’t a real person. These issues grow, with other problems arising amidst them, bringing about hard decisions between the real Ethan and Sophie, who still don’t quite know what is going on, and how it is happening.
It is one of those stories that is difficult to put into words fully. There are so many turns in the plot that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil them, it is definitely a more enjoyable film if you aren’t sure what is coming. It’s also a film that has a small cast and a limited location, making for a lot of time to explore the story itself. Ted Danson (Cheers) has a small part as Sophie and Ethan’s therapist, otherwise Duplass and Moss do the work here, and other than some voice work from minor-characters, they are the entire film. The house they stay at is portrayed as their real life, with the guest-house almost being a metaphor for their ideal life, what they wish their life was, and the whole thing has a fantastical aura about it, without being visually magical. It’s realistic and rustic in the approach whilst also putting out a tale that is very surrealist and poetic.
Duplass and Moss are very good as the leads and their performances as each version of Ethan and Sophie are great. They manage to play the same characters with tweaks here and there, bringing an edge to the “doubles” that make them seem like different people that are also the same. It’s hard to get my tongue around that sentence, but watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean. The writing is good too, and overall I felt like it was a really fresh and original film, surpassing my expectations that existed merely from hearing a basic synopsis and that a couple of actors I liked were a part of it. If you don’t like “weird” films, or indie-cinema, then maybe this won’t tick as many boxes for you as it did for me, but I thought this was completely entertaining and different, well-acted and surprising, and had an ending that left plenty to the imagination, which I always like. Top notch stuff.