Late Movie Reviews: The One I Love
Author’s note: I am going to attempt my hand at writing movie reviews. As the title suggests, these are not necessarily going to be reviews for current movies. My first review is for The One I Love. The movie received a very small release this summer and is currently streamable on netflix.
What would you do if you were confronted with the platonic ideal version of your lover? A lover who is always in the Honeymoon stage, always eager to impress, can assert him or herself while being simultaneously charming and witty, etc…
This is the question that The One I Love attempts to answer. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a young couple whose marriage is on the rocks and the verge of disintegration. They are both trying earnestly to save their marriage but therapy is not going well. Their therapist (an extremely short cameo by Ted Danson) has a Hail Mary up his sleeve. His fishes out a brochure for a getaway retreat and urges Ethan and Sophie to spend a weekend at the place. He says that couples have always come back renewed from their getaway.
Most of the rest of the movie takes place at the retreat. The retreat itself is a wonder of California beauty (I think it was filmed in Ojai). There is a main house, a coop with recording equipment and an ipad filled with testimony by happy couples, and a guest house.
The retreat seems to be going well at first. Ethan and Sophie have dinner, flirt over some wine, smoke pot, and then Sophie goes exploring as Ethan does the dishes. She enters the guest house and sees Ethan and they have sex. Or do they?
The guesthouse is not what it seems. After some arguments and misunderstandings, the audience finds out that the guest house has a magical realism quality. Ethan and Sophie can’t enter be in the guest house at the same time. Only one of them can enter at any given time. When in the guesthouse, they are met by an ideal version of their spouse. I will call these two Ideal Ethan and Ideal Sophie. Ideal Ethan constantly does pushups, paints, makes drinks, doesn’t wear glasses, and is in constant charm mode. Ideal Sophie is girly, flirty, prefers to wear summer dresses over comfortable yoga stretch pants, and makes bacon for breakfast. Real Sophie apparently hated when Ethan ate bacon for breakfast. Ideal Ethan and Ideal Sophie exist only in the guesthouse.
Needless to say that one of the real couple is absolutely enthralled by the presence of the Ideal and the other is less than enthused. One wants to spend as much time as possible with the Ideal and the other finds the experience distressing and freaky.
The movie is quick-paced, well-written, and well-acted especially by Elizabeth Moss. The problem with the intriguing premise is that it distracts from the issues and drama facing the couple and eventually cause the movie to sink under itself. The investigation into who or what Ideal Sophie and Ideal Ethan are always ends up raising more question than it answers and this distracts from the issues involving Ethan and Sophie as a romantic couple with a dissolving marriage. This makes it hard to tell whether the audience is supposed to be watching a longer episode of the Twilight Zone or thinking about the question I posed in the first paragraph. This is a general problem with failed magical realism or a movie that introduces some science fiction elements into an otherwise real-world setting. There is no indication of advanced technology in the world of The One I Love. The computer seen is a Mac, the phones are Iphones, and the car is also very real. So what are Ideal Ethan and Ideal Sophie? They are obviously very real but where did they come from? Are they Stepfordesque androids? I’d write more but it would be spoilers.
That said the movie is still worth watching and is a brisk 90 minutes long (if only so I can discuss it with people.) I am glad that movies like this are being made because even with the slight science fiction elements, it is still essentially a small character ensemble piece.