Tribeca Film Review: ‘Two/One’ Muddles Through Half-Baked Philosophy

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2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: The kernel of a compelling cinematic idea is presented in “Two/One,” though it’s an idea not explored in any satisfying manner. Filmmaker Juan Cabral presents a muddled philosophical thesis about identity, one that begins promisingly yet quickly loses its intrigue. The longer the film goes on, the less it does with the premise, upping the frustration level and leaving its cast alone on an island, stranded without hope of rescue. The notions that Cabral had while germinating this idea were lost in translation when moving it to the silver screen.

“Two/One” wants to get at the root of identity. The thought of being bonded to someone else is a staple of love, seen as a romantic pairing of destiny. What if it was just a fact of life, devoid of emotion? That rumination is chock full of potential. Unfortunately, unrealized potential is at the root of all elements within this movie. “Two/One” simply never gets far enough off the ground to take flight.

The film introduces us to Kaden (Boyd Holbrook) and Khai (Song Yang). The former is a Canadian ski jumper, while the latter is a Chinese business executive. While one is awake, the other is asleep. They are individuals to the world, but on the inside, they’re sharing opposite sides of the same experience. Themes in their lives move back and forth between the two. Objects pop up for both in a way that’s more than simply coincidental. As a former flame in Martha (Dominique McElligott) returns to Vancouver and makes contact with Kaden, Khai finds Jia (Zhu Zhu), a new employee at his office, to be the woman he’s obsessing over while on a revenge porn website.

Before long, “Two/One” begins to wonder too about what would happen if the two were to meet, so the narrative begins veering in this new direction. Career opportunities bring both to Japan, leading them to be dangerously close together. Eventually, the answer comes, though it’s just as disappointing as everything that’s come before.

Boyd Holbrook and Song Yang do their best to make the narrative worthwhile. Unfortunately, only given half a character to play kneecaps them both. Holbrook and Yang each remain enigmas throughout, even when scenes with their fathers are presented in order to flesh out history. Holbrook’s olympic style career is unique enough to be interesting, yet as unexplored as anything else. The small supporting cast, in addition to Dominique McElligott and Zhu Zhu, includes Beau Bridges.

Writer/director Juan Cabral believes his premise to be far more clever than it actual is. Despite Larry Smith providing sumptuous cinematography, “Two/One” is a static affair. Simply observing these two men leading parallel lives does not hold any sustained interest. Cabral is enamored with the idea, though incapable of indoctrinating his audience into the same type of feeling. Whatever hypothesis was developed at the scripting stage that fueled Cabral, its exploration remains elusive.

The frustration with “Two/One” chiefly resides with the opportunity it misses. Notions of one’s existence being tied into something or someone else are compelling. It just needs to be presented in a way that captures interest. Whereas something like “Stranger Than Fiction” toyed with similar ideas in an entertaining and fulfilling way, this movie does not. As an exercise, it fits as a forgettable festival selection, if little more than that. Beyond Tribeca, it’s just not a film that has the goods to be worth one’s time.

Two/One” debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 28 and is currently seeking distribution.

GRADE: (★★)

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