×
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.

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

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

  • Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass

    Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass Attendance, Structural Growth

    BUENOS AIRES — Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge hike in attendance to over 4,000 accredited delegates, the 2018 Ventana Sur will go down in history on multiple counts: Sales and pick-ups on movies which combined social comment and entertainment value, increasingly the new foreign-language movie standard; new sections, led by a Proyecta co-production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content