Film Review: “The One I Love”

By Anastasia Skliarova

My reading period consisted of some Netflix perusal — surprise. Unmoved by the sweet temptation of a “Parks and Recreation” marathon or the sad satisfaction of watching “Louie” for hours, I examined the Independent Drama category. Like an adult, I committed myself to a movie that was bound to expand my cinematic repertoire.

I carefully selected “The One I Love,” intrigued by Netflix’s brief description: “Confronted with the potential end of their marriage, Ethan and Sophie take off for a weekend together, hoping to negotiate their future.” One of my secretly favorite movie subgenres is the one wherein married couples navigate the stresses of almost-divorce and get back together in the end. This subgenre almost always offers an enjoyable emotional roller coaster.

This movie, however, does not fit any archetype that I have seen before. I came in expecting an intimate look at a couple on the brink of disaster with a tidy resolution. As the credits rolled, however, I was left befuddled and a little in shock.

Clocking in at about an hour and a half, this movie begins with a recognizable scene in a therapist’s office. The couple articulates their mutual feelings of stagnancy and inauthenticity toward one another, and the counselor directs them toward a romantic getaway. From here, the plotline completely diverges from anything predictable.

The cast list is intriguing: Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, the frazzled couple, and Ted Danson is their therapist. His cameo is brief, but Danson delivers just the right amount of coolness as the unflappable therapist who has seen it all before. The vast majority of the film features Moss and Duplass exclusively and demands a broad emotional range.

After a silent drive to a verdant Californian oasis, Ethan and Sophie settle into a beautiful vacation home. At first, their marital tension feels awkward, but they soon relax into something resembling the pair they once were. They explore the property and find a guesthouse. While inside the guesthouse, Sophie is delighted to discover that Ethan’s romantic side has reemerged. After a passionate evening, she returns to the main house to grab pajamas.

The plot thickens, however, when she sees Ethan sleeping on the couch. She asks him how he got there so quickly, seeing as they were both just at the guesthouse, and Ethan replies that he had never left the main house. Ethan and Sophie soon realize that the guesthouse contains identical versions of them, still played by Moss and Duplass. There is one major difference, however: the alternate Ethan and alternate Sophie are happier, more loving and more appealing.

Ethan and Sophie mutually agree to experiment with these seemingly upgraded people, reveling in the memories of happier times that they resurrect. Experimentation, however, leads to infatuation, confusion, spying and eventual betrayal. It was exciting to see Moss and Duplass play a couple struggling with intimacy and resentment in such an earnest, relatable way. Additionally, the tension that arises as memories intersect with the present-day felt a little eerie and laid the path for an unnerving surprise ending.

Directed by Charlie McDowell, “The One I Love” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 and had a limited theatrical release in the United States later that year. Although some critics suggested that the bizarre plot was not pushed far enough, the film was met with pretty favorable reviews. It received an 80 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Moss and Duplass’ performances were generally perceived as convincing and clever.

Although this movie threw me for a loop, I enjoyed it. If you are looking for a suspenseful, “Inception”-like exploration of a relationship gone wrong, enjoy the peculiarity of “The One I Love” — after all, we only have a few more weeks to procrastinate.