When I’m invited to an independent film I know nothing about, I make a point of avoiding all trailers or synopses so I can go into it with no expectations whatsoever. Often it doesn’t make much of a difference, but occasionally it pays off, when the film turns out to be one hell of a left-field surprise. This is exactly what happened after the lights came up at the end of Charlie McDowell’s ‘The One I Love’. Not knowing anything about the film beforehand, I’d been picked up by it, thrown around, tickled, beaten and, in the end, left totally speechless. I had just seen something absolutely remarkable.
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are in the middle of marriage counselling. Their relationship has become stale and loveless, and their therapy seems to be going nowhere. So their therapist (Ted Danson) sends them off on a weekend away to a retreat, to give them a chance to spend time with one another and fall in love again. It’s a gorgeous house on secluded grounds, and everything seems ripe for reconnecting the couple... until they find themselves in a very unusual and unexpected situation.
'THE ONE I LOVE' TRAILER
If you’re frustrated by the vagueness of my description, the publicity material for the film won’t offer you much else, because the twists and turns that ‘The One I Love’ navigates with such incredible skill are too good to be spoiled. Justin Lader’s masterful screenplay subverts expectations, changing genres and tones with great musicality without sacrificing character at any point. Ethan and Sophie are beautifully constructed and relatable characters, built on clear idiosyncrasies that become vital as the film progresses. In the hands of a lesser director, the many pieces of the film might have fallen apart, but Charlie McDowell’s work is amongst the most skilled and exhilarating we’ve seen all year. He keeps every ball in the air beautifully, charting the complications in Lader's screenplay and giving the film a gorgeous visual language. At any given moment, you feel like you might be able to pin down the genre ‘The One I Love’ is playing with, but it defies convention so easily that this becomes impossible. Doug Emmett’s cinematography a summer-drenched dream, Jennifer Lilly’s editing is exacting and sharp, and everything is topped off with Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ playfully wicked score.
Most importantly, no element of the filmmaking here dictates how you should think and feel at any given moment. As Ethan and Sophie disappear faster and faster down the rabbit hole, the film doesn’t stop to offer explanation, leaving tantalising unanswered questions in its wake. This only makes ‘The One I Love’ an even more fascinating film, and one that demands the audience participate in deconstructing the bizarre situation the couple find themselves in rather than simply sitting back and observing. Without breaking a sweat, it can go from hilarious to moving to disturbing and at no point leave you behind. The superb screenplay is already an achievement, but that every other element of this film matches it makes the film worthy of celebration.
Duplass and Moss are the most ordinary and believable couple the screen has seen in a very long time.
And this includes the two central performances, the true feat of which you will understand when you see the film. Duplass and Moss are the most ordinary and believable couple the screen has seen in a very long time, which makes them all the easier to connect with. Duplass acts as our anchor, reacting with confusion and sincerity to his predicament, and balancing his tremendous comic timing with genuine heart. Moss is utterly radiant every moment she appears on screen, giving probably her finest performance yet. If we didn’t believe these two and their response to their situation, the film simply wouldn’t work, and all the great skill off-camera wouldn’t make any difference.
I know, another review from me this year that dances around saying exactly what the film is actually about, but the surprises in ‘The One I Love’ are worth being ambiguous about. It’s so rare these days to be genuinely surprised by a film, so the fact that this one does so with such aplomb makes it an absolute must-see. This is spectacular cinema, full of narrative and character-driven pyrotechnics that leave you gasping at every turn, and unquestionably one of the best films of the year. Trust me, this is one you absolutely cannot miss!