Seeing Double This Year?
Minor spoilers ahead.
In March of last year, a terrorist attack on the White House trapped the President and his particularly heroic guard, resulting in a fight for survival: the fate of the great nation resting on the broad shoulders of these two men. Four months later, June of 2013, a terrorist attack on the White House trapped the President and his particularly courageous guard, resulting in a fight for survival: the fate of the great nation resting on the sturdy shoulders of these two men. This year-in-film has not yet echoed additional iterations of Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down, but trends in story or thematic investigation are not uncommon in the medium. While those two action films serve as loud, unmissable examples, the filmmakers of 2014 have decided to expertly spiral into identity crisis, some of which express a clear proclivity for doppelgangers.
Confronting this notion since his earliest work, Polanski’s adaptation of Venus in Fur is one continuous and devilish charade between opposing sexes, and by the film’s end, it’s hard to differentiate the two, despite their most pronounced variances. The Jake Gyllenhaal platform, Enemy, and Richard Ayoade’s steampunkish The Double, both allow their central figures to square off against, themselves. And on a larger scale, this summer’s disciplined blockbuster, X-Men: Days of Future Past, addressed this self-inspection by way of time travel: what would you tell your younger self if you came face to face? Despite dealing with similar agendas, and being released in a near successive fashion, all of these films retained genuine singularity, both in their narratives – the vessels for the inner skirmishes – and in their visual execution. Slightly expecting The One I Love to flirt with sameness or prove exhaustive, my assumptions were dismantled.
Much of the film relies on the sensibility of its two leads, Ethan, played by one of the film’s producers Mark Duplass, and his wife Sophie, cast as the superb Elizabeth Moss. I am surprised at the level of ambiguity stapled to the marketing campaign. Its trailer is no different than the “on-the-next-episode-of-Mad Men” segment, where the only images we see are closing doors juxtaposed with an imperceptible montage of facial expressions. Even the IMDB summary remains vague, referring to the conflict as “an unusual dilemma.” Generally speaking, aside from a few third act deviations, the “twist” of this movie that has been enshrouded in mystery, is in fact, simply, its plot.
Upon arriving at a retreat home (roughly fifteen minutes into the film), Ethan and Sophie realize that this isn’t your average Air B&B. What begins as a weekend to salvage their fading marriage, as prescribed by a shared therapist, quickly plunges into Twilight Zone territory. A small guest cottage on the gorgeous, undisclosed property is capable of producing an alternate version of each partner: a version untarnished by the years of faltered communication. Sophie can enter the room and find a more physically charged and romantic replica of her currently dismissive Ethan. And should Ethan seek reprieve from a nagging partner who denies him his right to consume bacon, then look no further. The rules that this chateau abides by are established early on, allowing the viewer to leave the questioning of the strangeness to the characters on screen. The last guest house I crashed in had a SmartTV, which was enough to occupy time.
The One I Love never loses sight of what it sets out to do, and that’s to function as a relationship drama. Justin Lader’s script impressively balances elements of science fiction with the realities of partnership, calling into question the nature of trust and where its violation can spring from. With a strong focus on character, however, I could not help feeling like this intriguing and at many times poignantly executed premise did not reach its full story potential: more involved plotting of its finale or an even further escalating mid-section could have expanded the tension. In many ways you can feel the airy touches of the Duplass Brothers here, refraining from digging as deep as some of the characters might have wanted to do. That said, this is the Brothers most mature work to date, and they seem to be improving with each new project.
Something should be said for Elisabeth Moss. Playing Sophie and Alter-Ego-Sophie, she serves up just the right amount of girly enthusiasm matched by assured, vaguely-maniacal control. She is one of the most watchable young actresses working today, and I look forward to seeing her future projects.
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