"The One I Love", a successful entry at the Sundance Festival, was released for a limited run in August of 2014. It was originally conceived as a 50 page script by Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell fashioned it into something longer, after encouraging the principal actors, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, to improvise.
Lader's script veers between farce and science fiction. The first half is more farcical and reveals a coterie of truths concerning relationships between men and women. The second half is less successful, with an unfortunate attempt to emulate "Twilight Zone." The story begins with great promise. A troubled couple, Ethan and Sophie, are seeing a therapist (Ted Danson) in order to re-establish some kind of intimacy in their relationship. The therapist recommends a weekend retreat to a secluded estate.
Andrew O'Hehir of Salon Magazine describes where each of the two principals are at when they arrive at the estate: "Ethan has the wounded pride of a guy who thinks he has done quite enough apologizing and now suspects he'll never get anything right; Sophie has the prickly, passive-aggressive demeanor of a woman who's searching for the guy she fell in love with but isn't sure he still exists."
The story becomes quite engaging with the inciting incident, when Ethan insists that the good sex Sophie claims occurred the night before, never happened. Soon Ethan and Sophie discover that there are Ethan and Sophie doubles who have been pretending to be them whenever they enter a guest house by themselves.
Both doubles are supposed to be idealized versions of their real counterparts but Ethan's double is much more distinctive than Sophie's (it's much easier to recognize him since he doesn't wear glasses, unlike the real Ethan). Double Ethan impresses Real Sophie when she discovers him painting her portrait—when she finds the portrait a bit dour, he owns up to being a "lousy painter." Real Sophie is disarmed by his honesty. Later, Double Ethan admits to his earlier infidelity (the main cause of their marital discord) and Real Sophie completely falls for him after he promises to make amends.
Screenwriter Lader shows a great talent for farce with his depiction of Real Ethan's burgeoning jealousy. The fun stuff reaches its apotheosis when Real Ethan enters the guest house pretending to be Double Ethan and makes love to his real wife. Elise Nakhnikian of Slant Magazine understands that Lader's script is getting to something much more serious underneath the lighthearted goings-on: "It's an inventive way to surface issues like how romance tends to lose its spark and people tend to get set in their ways in long-term relationships, becoming less attentive and appreciative of one another—and how the bad feelings let in by a breach of faith can harden into an impassible barrier."
Unfortunately, around the mid-point, the fun dissipates as the doubles reveal themselves as a "team" and meet real Ethan and Sophie at the main house. Double Ethan is no longer the "new and improved" Ethan and reveals Real Ethan's deceit when he took his place and made love to Real Sophie. The bizarre socializing (including a dull poker game) slows down the manic proceedings and it feels that the earlier premise has been altered and the narrative has now worn out its welcome.
Double Sophie soon provides Real Ethan with a convoluted explanation as to what's happening. As the doubles repair their relationship, they'll be allowed to leave but as the real Ethan and Sophie continue to bicker, they'll remain trapped. Nonetheless, Double Sophie volunteers to help Real Ethan and Sophie escape as she doesn't want Double Ethan to run off with Real Sophie.
The Twilight Zone-like explanation that the doubles are real people planted by the therapist doesn't appear to be worked out very well. Nakhnikian in Slant Magazine feels that the explanation "raises distracting questions." She asks, "How do the doppelgängers manage to look so much like Sophie and Ethan? How does the therapist keep them trapped in the guest house? And who's the therapist and why is he playing God like this?" The ending is equally unsatisfying as Real Ethan runs off with one of the Sophie's merely on his gut feelings; as it turns out (SUPER SPOILERS AHEAD) he chooses the wrong one. Meanwhile, Double Ethan remains unconscious at the estate after running into an unexplained force field that suddenly pops up, as he attempts to run away.
"The One I Love" could have assuredly utilized a better explanation for the presence of the clone-like doubles at the estate. That way the premise could have been more convincing, based on some kind of verisimilitude. At a certain point the fun is lost, and the narrative turns a tad bit nasty. Still, "The One I Love" is a very promising start for the first time writer and director.
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