Published Aug 21, 2014A struggling married couple get away for the weekend at the behest of their therapist. That is essentially all I can tell you about director Charlie McDowell's bewildering debut feature, The One I Love, without spoiling anything. Basically, after said couple arrives at the cottage, they discover something odd about the cottage's guesthouse, and the entire film hangs on the balance of what they find there. It is certainly an original and well-executed twist, but maintaining the delicate illusion they've created requires the audience to ignore some minor holes here and there, which can be distracting. Still, it is an audacious debut for McDowell that's brilliantly acted by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.
Duplass and Moss play Ethan and Sophie. The two actors are friends off-camera, and they bring their ease with each other to the screen, creating some very real chemistry. You can practically smell the tension in the room when we first meet them in therapy; Ethan and Sophie have been together for a few years now, and they've experienced recent, undisclosed trauma in their relationship. In the aftermath, Ethan wants to go back and find that spark that's buried underneath the pain, while Sophie wants to look forward and find a new path for their relationship to move on. Neither theory is totally sound, and you may find yourself siding more with one than the other, but how they finally come to face themselves and each other is unexpected, to say the least.
First-time feature film writer Justin Lader weaves a creative and oddly plausible yarn here, but like any true yarn, there are a few loose strings. That said, for a debut, The One I Love is braver than most films coming from veteran filmmakers. The discourse it inspires about how to save flailing relationships is fresh and exciting, a rarity when you live in a time when it feels like everything has already been said.