Sundance London: The One I Love review

The One I Love begins very much as you would expect from all of those relationship dramedies you can find on the Sundance line-up and then VOD about six months later. Before long, however, this film reveals its surprising high concept hook and as the story continues to unravel, writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell use their unexpected premise to great effect.

The film begins with a story told by the protagonists, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss), which introduces us to their relationship in a highly affective way. They’re sitting in a therapists office, recounting the tale of one of their early dates and how they snuck into a neighbour’s pool. The experience was clearly exhilarating for them, but representative of something they’ve now lost. After their relationship hit a wall and the spark had departed, Ethan attempted to recreate this event, with less than satisfactory results.

Ethan and Sophie’s marriage is really flagging, and this was not helped by an extra-marital affair. Their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends they go away to a retreat, and as the pair are willing to try anything, they drive out to the remote and beautiful house, looking to be alone, free to reconnect with each other.

And it’s then that the twist comes into play. This conceit is revealed rather early on but I am about to explain it, so if you’d rather see the film without any prior knowledge at all, turn back now and just know that this is going to be a positive review.

It turns out that the property has a guest house and if either Ethan or Sophie enters this building by themselves, they will encounter an idealised version of their partner. This doppelgänger’s hair is a little better, they’re more attentive and supportive, and they always know just the right thing to say.

Sophie comments at one point that it seems as though a memory she has of Ethan has been brought to life. Reminiscent of Ethan’s attempts to recreate the pool infiltration and recapture an early moment of electricity in their relationship, these duplicates are perhaps the people that Ethan and Sophie fell in love with, not the ones they now feel that they are with.

The film continues to twist and turn, but I wont spoil any more of the surprises beyond that first-act catalyst.

The One I Love never settles into the easy, plot-driven route of simply uncovering mysteries and playing with audience expectations. This is a much more fascinating and nuanced piece that seeks to explore the couple’s relationship, and ultimately digs really deep into its subject matter in a remarkable way.

One unnecessary inclusion is unfortunately something of a misstep. There’s a scene in which Ethan finds a piece of evidence that would go some way to explaining how the central conceit ‘works.’ It feels as though this sequence will lead to some sort of logical payoff for the more mysterious plot elements when there isn’t, and we never really do get a good explanation.

This is, of course, perfectly fine, but that one scene certainly implies an explanation might be forthcoming and risks creating an unsatisfied demand for such logical justification in the audience’s mind.

Screenwriter Lader reportedly only delivered a fifty page script for the film and a large amount of the dialogue was improvised by Moss and Duplass, but this seems to have had only a positive impact upon the end result. Most of what we see is polished and appears to have been carefully thought out.

Moss and Duplass are both incredibly natural, while expertly carving out the two different personas they need to play as their ‘real’ character and their doppelgänger. The make-up and costuming of the two characters, by Bree Daniel and Liz Lash, is also spot-on in helping to externalise their important characteristics, and also in ensuring that the audience is never in doubt about who it is they are looking at.

The unconventional but highly effective score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, the gorgeous cinematography from Doug Emmett and many smart choices from editor Jennifer Lilly are also worthy of commendation.

The One I Love is an intelligent, amusing and highly engaging picture which has me itching to see what McDowell and Lader do next.

There is currently no confirmed release date for The One I Love but it has recently been picked up for distribution in the US by Radius-TWC.