×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘The One I Love’

Charlie McDowell makes an incredibly assured directorial debut with this smart crowd-pleaser, featuring spectacular performances from Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

With:

Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson.

A pleasure to watch but a challenge to discuss without spoiling a good deal of the fun, “The One I Love” marries Mark Duplass’ skill for incisive relationship comedies with a high concept any Hollywood studio would covet. Boasting spectacular performances from Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as a husband and wife on the brink of separation, this incredibly assured directorial debut of Charlie McDowell essentially turns the idea of a two-hander upside down and inside out. Such a smart, crowd-pleasing entertainment deserves a distrib savvy enough to navigate a release without giving away the central twist of the premise in the marketing.

Pic opens with Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) seemingly at the end of their rope in couples therapy. The spark they once had is gone, they can’t remember the last time they had sex and, as Sophie shares with their therapist (Ted Danson), happiness has become something they have to re-create from memories of a better past. But even these early scenes hint at something strange at work, as the therapy sessions alternate between what appear to be two different timelines, complete with different wardrobes and slightly different hairstyles for Ethan and Sophie.

The story really kicks in when the couple drive to a nearby vacation home at the urging of their therapist. He swears that struggling couples have had great success rekindling their romance in the secluded locale, and it intially looks like a break from society is exactly what the pair needs. Sophie cooks dinner, they smoke pot and have great conversation. Sophie later wanders over to the quaint guesthouse, where Ethan meets her and they make love. Returning to the main house, Sophie finds Ethan asleep on the couch with no memory of what happened between them. The surreal twists only increase from there, as Ethan and Sophie face reminders of why they originally fell in love and surprising temptations to split up for good.

Throughout its brisk 90-minute running time, “The One I Love” reinvigorates the romantic-comedy genre with an infusion of sci-fi/fantasy elements and sharp scripting. It’s no coincidence the film features onscreen references to both “The Twilight Zone” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” But it is surprising to learn that screenwriter Justin Lader only supplied a 50-page script and suggested dialogue, leaving Duplass and Moss to improvise a large percentage of the lines. Thanks to collaborative rehersals involving McDowell, Lader, producer Mel Eslyn and the actors, their delivery bares none of the telltale signs of performers making it up on the fly (pregnant pauses, fumbling delivery, awkward repetition), and the storytelling is witty, sophisticated and emotionally authentic all the way.

It’s tough to unpack the brilliant work the two stars do here without disclosing plot details better left vague; suffice to say they both create dazzlingly specific characters with great depth and (importantly) humanity. Although audiences may associate Duplass more readily with comedy and Moss with drama — especially given their work on the smallscreen — “The One I Love” breaks down genre barriers and gives both thesps plenty of space to showcase substantial comedic and dramatic chops.

Pic also reps a minor triumph of low-budget ingenuity, as McDowell oversees an impressive tech package. Jennifer Lilly’s editing is perhaps most crucial to making the increasingly complex narrative succeed, while the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans supplies an eerie undercurrent to the action, growing richer as the story unfolds. Theresa Guleserian’s production design plays a key role in differentiating among the minimal locations (basically the main house, the guesthouse and the therapist’s office) and Bree Daniel’s costuming is similarly sly. Visual effects supervisor Stefan Scherperel scores with the film’s most surreal imagery and d.p. Doug Emmett does a solid job of giving the film a dreamlike sheen without revealing too much too soon.

The closing-credits song, “Dedicated to the One I Love” by the Mamas and the Papas, ends things on a pitch-perfect note.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'The One I Love'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 21, 2014. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production:

A Duplass Brothers production. Produced by Mel Eslyn. Executive producers, Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, Charlie McDowell, Justin Lader.

Crew:

Directed by Charlie McDowell. Screenplay, Justin Lader. Camera (color, HD), Doug Emmett; editor, Jennifer Lilly; music, Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans; production designer, Theresa Guleserian; art director, Erika Toth; costume designer, Bree Daniel; sound, Sean O'Malley; re-recording mixer, Gene Park; visual effects supervisor, Stefan Scherperel; second unit camera, David Jacobson.

With:

Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson.

More Film

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

  • BETWEEN TWO FERNS, 2019, PH_0027.RAF

    Film Review: 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie'

    If you’re a fan of “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” the fake public-access talk show that Zach Galifianakis has been hosting online, for three to six minutes a pop, over the last 10 years, then you’ll probably like “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” the snark-lite 82-minute road movie that Galifianakis and his director and [...]

  • The Irishman

    Martin Scorsese, Frances McDormand, Donald Sutherland Join Lineup of France's Lumiere Festival

    Martin Scorsese’s eagerly awaited Netflix movie “The Irishman” wasn’t completed on time to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, but Thierry Fremaux, Cannes’s topper, managed to pin down the high-profile movie and Scorsese himself for the upcoming Lumiere festival in Lyon next month. Dedicated to heritage movies, the Lumiere festival was created 10 years [...]

  • 'Aladdin' Star Mena Massoud Calls for

    'Aladdin' Star Mena Massoud Calls for a Broader Diversity of Storytelling in Movies and TV

    The star of “Aladdin,” Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud, called for a greater diversity of storytelling in movies and television when he spoke at the glamorous opening ceremony Thursday of the 3rd edition of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival. Massoud, whose credits include Amazon’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and Hulu’s “Reprisal,” lauded “the power of art” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content