Monday, April 28, 2014

The One I Love

The One I Love, which played at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, is a likeable falling-out-of-love story with a clever but somewhat underdeveloped premise. Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are trying to salvage their marriage, though all the talk just seems to be making things worse. Then their therapist (Ted Danson) sends them to an idyllic retreat in Ojai, where the grounds are gorgeous, the weather is sunny, and Sophie and Ethan have a beautiful main house and a guest house all to themselves. At first, the place seems to be rejuvenating their relationship, but they soon realize that all the fun they thought they were having together actually wasn't with one another; it was with two other people who look and act almost exactly like they do, only a little better.

After realizing what's going on, the two decide to keep up what Ethan calls their "sessions" with the doppelgangers. Ethan, who goes along with the situation for Sophie's sake, sees it as a mystery to be solved, but Sophie just wants to see how it plays out. She's enjoying her time with the new Ethan, who's as funny and undefensive and attentive as old Ethan used to be. In fact, she's falling in love all over again. It's an inventive way to surface issues like how romance tends to lose its spark and people tend to get set in their ways in long-term relationships, becoming less attentive and appreciative of one another—and how the bad feelings let in by a breach of faith can harden into an impassible barrier. Playing two parts each gives the versatile and well-matched Moss and Duplass many ways to interact with one another, ranging from the mutual delight of new love to the sour wariness of mutual mistrust.

Ethan's growing dismay at being outmaneuvered by what amounts to his own best self is poignant as well as funny, but the film gets too caught up in the semi-farcical comings and goings of the two Sophies and Ethans to explore any of the issues it raises about relationships very deeply. It's also unfortunate that the doubles are revealed to be real people planted there by the therapist, an explanation that raises distracting questions. How do the doppelgangers manage to look so much like Sophie and Ethan? How does the therapist keep them trapped in the guest house? And who's the therapist and why is he playing God like this? If only the filmmakers had taken a tip from Charlie Kaufmann, who the director cites as an inspiration, and left the doubles a total mystery (like the Charlie Kaufmann character Nicolas Cage plays in Adaptation.), Ethan and Sophie's doppelgangers might have functioned more as a way to think about how we love and less as mere rivals for the couple's affections.

Written for Slant.

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