Saturday, August 23, 2014

"The One I Love"

 3.5 / 5 

Every couple who has had problems -- which is, to say, every couple -- has heard the story: There's this great place, this quiet and peaceful retreat way out in the country, that specializes in getting you "reconnected."  You'll learn who your partner is again, you'll discover unbelievable and wonderful things about each other, and you'll both leave the weekend better than you've ever been.


Often, the people who tell these kinds of stories do it with the same sort of glassy-eyed, slightly crazed look and overly cheery disposition that seems more at home on a member of "Up With People" or one of the Manson family.

It makes you a little afraid of what actually goes on during one of these weekends, the kind that promise that you won't leave as the same person you were.

The One I Love takes place at one of these country retreats, and that's just about all I can say about that.  Maybe I've already said too much.

The movie stars Mark Duplass, who was in the criminally underseen Safety Not Guaranteed, which I thought was one of the very best movies of 2012, and still puts a goofy smile on my face when I think about it.  Duplass specializes in playing a certain type of hangdog almost-loser, the kind of guy who is too focused on the things he didn't get in life to take solace in the things he did.  He's an almost-handsome actor, perfect for the indie rom-com vibe that runs through The One I Love.

Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men is his wife, and while it's hard to see what he could dislike about this pretty, smart, feisty woman, that's exactly the point: They have both completely lost sight of each other.  The best they can do at this point is try to remake the favorite moments of their courtship, and it's questionable whether they even like each other all that much anymore.

Their therapist (Ted Danson, for a few fleeting moments) sends them away to the retreat, which the movie uses as a launching point for a story you will find either refreshingly engrossing or utterly confusing, possibly both.  There have been a few precedents, perhaps, but it would be impossible to say you've ever seen a movie quite like The One I Love.

Part door-slamming farce, part philosophical musing, The One I Love combines the sensibilities of Charlie Kaufman, Neil Simon and Rod Serling in daring ways that may not be entirely satisfying (the ending is maddeningly vague) but are always disarming and compelling.

Toward the end, when things are either going drastically wrong or wonderfully right, depending on the way you look at it, Moss's Sophie tells Duplass's Ethan to stop worrying, they can find a way to stop the madness that's happening and be a better couple, which makes him stop her right there -- he doesn't want them to be different than they were; he likes that they have troubles, that their lives are messy, that they don't always get along and have a difficult, complicated relationship.

That's the moment The One I Love won me over.  Despite the machinations, it's at heart an honest movie about people who don't want to be perfect, they just want to be better, and much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they discover they've had what they needed all along.  It's how they get to that revelation that sets The One I Love apart from anything else you've ever seen.  Whether it needs quite the level of complex invention it displays is another question altogether.

Much like the couple at its core, The One I Love is simultaneously convoluted, frustrating, exasperating and confusing -- but also charming, rewarding and worthwhile.  It may not be perfect, but in the midst of a summer riddled with thundering superheroes, giant robots and marauding monsters, its imperfection makes it all that much more intriguing.

Viewed August 23, 2014


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