Thursday, February 26, 2015

The One I Love

THE ONE I LOVE (Charlie McDowell, 2014)

When something or someone is familiar, it’s easy to take for granted what to expect when encountering the object or person again and again. As the newness wears off, the sameness may become less interesting and the flaws more apparent while a slight modification from the usual can seem rather exciting. THE ONE I LOVE explores this aspect of a marriage through something akin to romantic comedy, although not in a way anticipated by that genre label.

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are in the middle of a rough patch in their marriage. He did something for which she still hasn’t forgiven him For their anniversary Ethan tries to duplicate the evening they met, which he considers the greatest night of his life, but the second time around doesn’t contain the same thrills. His attempt speaks to the problem Sophie feels exist. They are at a point where happiness is something they have to recreate.

Their therapist (Ted Danson) suggests going on a weekend retreat that has proven beneficial for his other patients. Although they’re at odds, Ethan and Sophie want to salvage their relationship, so, in the hope of renewing their love, they go to the gated property with a vacation house and guest house. While there they face what each is seeking in a spouse.

Without explicitly spoiling the surprise of what awaits the couple at the retreat, THE ONE I LOVE resembles Rod Serling’s version of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, which is something the characters acknowledge upon sizing up the situation. The film’s particulars are fantastical, but the dilemma is rooted in reality. If one person in a relationship is more enamored of a memory of who the other was or a projected better-but-not-ideal version, how can they repair the damage before everything collapses? As Ethan and Sophie mention to their therapist, reliving the rosy origin of their romance didn’t rekindle what once existed so easily.

The comedy in THE ONE I LOVE emerges in the differing visions the characters have of one another in this strange trust exercise. Duplass amuses with how he registers annoyance at the man Sophie would prefer Ethan to be. Some changes that appeal to her are superficial, but to Ethan fulfilling her requests means losing the ability to assert his individuality. Plus, Sophie doesn’t seem interested so much in working with Ethan but rather having her desires reinforced. On the other hand, he is suspicious of the supposedly better Sophie, which Moss has fun playing as the perfect traditional housewife. Ethan finds that a more compliant version of Sophie feels alien. After all, a solid marriage is based on mutual respect, not acceding to the partner’s every wish.

The film’s second act, its strongest section, verges on farce as Ethan and Sophie negotiate how best to deal with the scenario they find themselves in and react to the complications. Director Charlie McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader meet the precarious challenge of keeping the limited narrative action moving without stagnating, although the third act muddles things somewhat thematically by introducing explanations for what’s occurring. Those answers create more questions and distract from the primary subject of study. Still, THE ONE I LOVE succeeds through its inventive and humorous treatment of what people seek in a serious relationship.

Grade: B+

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