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‘The One I Love’—what?

February 23rd, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Swain

PARK CITY—In any film, the first concern should always be a strong, coherent plot. Artistic elements, daring experimentation, complicated visual effects, and even dialogue or casting should be considered only after a good storyline is mapped out. All the visual effects in the world can’t cover up an incoherent and rambling narrative.

While perhaps obvious advice, the question then is why are there so many jumbled movies? Inexperience perhaps? An unfortunate case in point, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival last month was blogger, author and first-time director Charlie McDowell, who may have gotten a little over his head in the confusing and disjointed “The One I Love.”

Beginning with the marital troubles of couple Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss), “The One I Love” at first glance looks like a standard romantic dramedy type film of a married couple who must fall back in love with each other. Very soon though it becomes clear McDowell and writer Justin Lader were determined not to have a predictable plot; however that seems to be the last and only clear decision made in regards to the plotline.

During marriage counseling, Ethan and Sophie agree to go on a romantic weekend getaway to their counselor’s country home, where many couples before them have escaped only to successfully rediscover why they originally married their partners.

Dubious at first, they arrive in the evening and independently explore the grounds. Sophie ends up in the guesthouse, to be joined shortly by Ethan. They share a romantic evening together, feeling closer to one another than they have in a long time.

Or did they? Because Ethan sure doesn’t remember any of it. In fact he remembers falling asleep early in the main house and not seeing Sophie at all the night before. He does though remember waking up to Sophie cooking him bacon (apparently very uncharacteristically), events which Sophie doesn’t remember at all.

Ethan and Sophie quickly realize something other-worldly is afoot, and after briefly considering bailing out on the whole weird experience, curiosity gets the better of them and they decide to play with fire and delve deeper into the mystery.

What unfolds is a one of the most bizarre and bewildering films I’ve ever watched. Attempting to be a comment on the many facets of personality and the multiplicity of character in a relationship, the movie left too many unanswered questions and dead-ends to be an effective comment on anything. Ethan and Sophie discover there is a parallel Ethan and Sophie living on the premise who are apparently trying to get them to fall out of love, so the doppelgangers can escape the house (which is a prisoner of sorts, all masterminded by the marriage counselor). Real Ethan and Sophie would then be trapped in the house until another love-labored couple came to stay.

At one point Ethan discovers a bunch of computer files of alien-like voice training sessions, which is creepy, but then forgotten as McDowell and Lader seem to think better of the idea and just abandon it. In another scene Ethan crosses time and space (or maybe it’s a flashback of future events?) to try to confront the evil master-mind marriage counselor, only to find his office abandoned with no trace of him ever being there. It felt like a Beautiful Mind reference, but as none of the characters turned out to be schizophrenic, which actually could have been a viable plot option, it was probably just another abandoned idea they forgot to edit out.

The movie even ends with a reality-or-not-reality, open-to-interpretation, audience-gets-to-decide type confusing ending that I’m sure McDowell and Lader fancied to be “Inception”-like. Instead it leaves the audience scratching their heads, assuming the story was written into a corner and the only way out was to basically end the film ambiguously and just call writer’s block artistic flair.

In a Q&A session with the audience after the film, McDowell revealed the first part of the film they confirmed was where they were going to shoot it, and then they wrote the storyline based on the location. In the end that makes a lot of sense. When location (and a thoroughly ordinary one at that), not plot, is a film’s first priority of course everything’s going to be a little out of whack.


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