Movie Review - The One I Love

Mark Duplass in "The One I Love"
Mark Duplass, the lead actor and executive producer here, calls out the fact that this film is cribbing off The Twilight Zone, but, while this film might match the twisty, science-fiction or fantasy nature, it doesn't learn the fundamental lesson, which is Rod Serling's brilliant series taught fundamental lessons. There is no clear takeaway to this movie. It ends with the rug being pulled out from under us. The Twilight Zone did the same but with purpose. This screenplay by Justin Lader pulls the rug out simply to pull the rug out.

Duplass (The League and The Mindy Project) plays Ethan, one-half of a married couple that is currently in counseling. Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men and Top of the Lake) co-stars as Sophie, his wife who has serious trust issues with Ethan after it's revealed that Ethan had an affair. Ted Danson (Cheers and Curb Your Enthusiasm) plays their therapist who decides to send them to a retreat in the mountains by themselves to work on their relationship.

When Ethan and Sophie get to the retreat, strange things start to happen. Once the strangeness is exposed, the film could have been an interesting exploration of open relationships or exploration of trust in relationships, how it's lost and how it's retrieved or not. It also could have been a look at how first experiences define a marriage as much as they can sink it and the ennui that can set in.

Director Charlie McDowell switches gears and becomes a paranoid thriller that is never abandoned, even when all logic dictates it should. It almost falls into the same trap as haunted house movies. For the sake of the premise, the characters are compelled to stay in the haunted house when all reason would say they need to leave.

It's the classic joke in these haunted house or scary movies when the audience yells at the screen for the characters to leave because danger is right around the corner or the other shoe is about to drop. Unless there is a compelling reason to stay, the characters appear stupid or mere contrivances. Lader's reason appears to be sheer curiosity, which is fine initially but a line is crossed.

It ceases to make sense for the characters to stay. Lader's inability to concoct a compelling a reason reeks of non-inventiveness. Given the sci-fi or possible fantasy elements, it doesn't seem like it would be too difficult. The possibilities are endless, but instead the script hopes to string the characters through a quasi-mystery, treating its characters as game pieces rather than thinking, human beings.

To be fair, it treats Ethan as less of a game piece than Sophie. Its sexism or chauvinism becomes apparent when it presents Sophie with a choice to make and then takes that choice away. The script also short-changes Sophie when she asks a very fundamental question of why Ethan has an affair, and that question is never answered. A bunch of meaningless platitudes are given but never a true answer.

This might be a spoiler, but the very ending doesn't have as much of a punch as it could have. Ethan is presented with a similar decision as the one Spock gets in the TV series Star Trek in the episode titled, "Whom Gods Destroy." Spock's decision is given more weight and is a final test of his relationship with Captain Kirk or at least his knowledge of him. Ethan's decision is not given the same weight. It's needlessly made in a split-second, again with no agency given to Sophie.

A ripe opportunity for drama is lost. However, at times Duplass is funny and charming in his role. Moss is occasionally lovely and intriguing, but she's so short-changed that it's frustrating.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.


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