Ethan: Aberrations happen.
A struggling, married couple get away for the weekend at the behest of their therapist. That is essentially all I can tell you about director, Charlie McDowell’s bewildering debut feature, THE ONE I LOVE. Basically, after said couple arrives at the cottage, they discover something odd about the cottage’s guest house, and the entire film hangs on the balance of what they find there. It is certainly an original and well executed twist, but maintaining the delicate illusion they’ve created requires the audience to ignore some minor holes here and there, which can be distracting. Still, it is an audacious debut for McDowell and brilliantly acted by Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss.
Duplass and Moss play Ethan and Sophie. The two actors are friends off camera and they bring their ease with each other to the screen, creating some very real chemistry. You can practically smell the tension in the room when we first meet them in therapy. This is a couple who have been together for a few years now and who have lived through a recent, undisclosed trauma in their relationship. In the aftermath, Ethan wants to go back and find that spark that’s buried underneath the pain, while Sophie wants to look forward and find a new path for their relationship to grow on. Neither theory is incorrect, and you may find yourself siding more with one than the other, but I think I can easily say that you will not be expecting how they finally come to face themselves and each other.
First time feature film writer, Justin Lader, weaves a creative and oddly plausible yarn here, but like any true yarn, there are a few loose strings. And while I again can’t quite specify what those are, I can say that you can feel when the film is overcompensating to make up for its more incongruous elements. That said, for a debut, THE ONE I LOVE is braver than most films coming out of veteran filmmakers. The discourse it inspires about how to save flailing relationships is fresh and exciting, which is a rarity when you live in a time when it feels like everything has already been said.