Back when I first saw this film at the Tribeca Film Festival, I struggled to figure out what to say about The One I Love. The thing is, it’s actually really hard to write about The One I Love, which is partially why it took so long to get that initial Tribeca review out, despite it being one of the very first films I saw at the fest. For one thing, the plot of the flick really centers around a major spoiler (really, the whole movie does), and to even talk too much in generalities is to risk giving something important away, so the plot synopsis below is going to be rather tricky for me to handle (yes, I’m kind of writing this review as a stream of consciousness piece, at least this paragraph, so go with me here). Still, there’s enough to discuss here so that it didn’t feel useless, and doesn’t again, especially since I enjoyed the film and want to recommend it once more. First of all, both Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are really good in the flick, and the direction by Charlie McDowell is very confident, which hints at a bright future for him. The movie is often clever and funnier than you’d expect at the start, though towards the end of the third act a lot of the humor has vanished, resulting in an uneven tone. That being said, few things at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival were quite as unique as The One I Love, so I have no issue letting you all know that it’s definitely something to be on the lookout for later this year. Hopefully this time around I can find the words to some degree in order to better express why it’s a quality piece of cinema.
Okay, let me try this one once again, plot wise. The story here is a fairly simple one, but that’s deceptive. I’m going to cite IMDb’s plot summary as a starting point this time too, which goes like this:
“Struggling with a marriage on the brink of falling apart, a couple escapes for a weekend in pursuit of their better selves, only to discover an unusual dilemma that awaits them.”
All of that is accurate, but it’s that “unusual dilemma” that really sets the story in motion. Before that though, we’re introduced to the couple (Duplass and Moss), as well as their therapist (Ted Danson), who is the one to suggest the weekend getaway that will change their lives forever. We get just enough backstory during their opening therapy scene to understand why this trip is needed, and when they discover what’s unique about this spot, there’s conflicting emotions about what each of them should do with this newfound information. I know I sound frustratingly vague about all of this, but I went in fairly blind and I’m glad that I did, so I’m trying to preserve that experience as best as I can for all of you. Trust me, you’ll thank me later, especially if you dig the flick. Even if you don’t, you’ll appreciate not having look at this in another of a series of a certain kind of film.
I can’t stress enough that the best part of the film is easily the performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. Duplass is as much known for his filmmaking with his brother Jay Duplass as he is for his acting, but this is one of his best performances to date. He’s a bit of a schlub, and while he’s lovable, he’s always difficult, and Duplass commits to never giving up on that harder edge to the character. It’s a much better performance than you initially realize. Moss has a bigger character arc and winds up being just as unlikable at times, so it’s a credit to her that you still want to watch them try and fight through this all. They have some interesting chemistry together, especially later on in the movie, though I won’t say why. The only other person in the cast is the aforementioned Ted Danson, and while he’s amusing, his character isn’t in the picture for very long. This is very much about Duplass and Moss, and lucky for us too, as they create a fascinating pair of characters to follow for a shade over 90 minutes.
The quality of the acting shouldn’t shortchange the filmmaking though, which is far from bad. McDowell and his screenwriter Justin Lader do a very fine job leading you through this unique plot (with the exception of the final scene, which I saw coming a mile away and didn’t care for one bit), and it’s due to their confidence in the material. McDowell isn’t a flashy director, and while he could have gone that route here, he wisely chose to keep things simple and focus on the actors and their characters. Lader has a very clever premise for a story up his sleeve, and aside from that ending I didn’t like, he consistently keeps you on your tows about what’s going to happen next. This movie has something in common with a few other releases this year, but it takes a very unique route in telling that similar story.
So here we are again. When you get right down to it, The One I Love is a romantic dramedy with a high concept premise that works perhaps even slightly better than it otherwise should have. The performances are top notch, the script is very different, and the execution is high class. Aside from the ending, there’s not much to dislike about this one. The One I Love is one of the better Tribeca entries this year, and I’ll be eager for more folks to see it in the coming months. It’ll certainly generate some interesting discussions.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!