Director: Charlie McDowell. Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. USA, 2014. Budget: $100,000. Box office: $513,447. IMDb: 7.1. My rating: 3/4. Witty dissection of a couple relationship wrapped in a sci-fi puzzle.
– Let’s say you buy a gorilla.
– Excuse me?
– Let’s say you buy a gorilla, Ethan.
– You can’t buy a gorilla.
– I know that, it was for the story. But fine, let’s say
you buy an aardvark, okay?
(conversation between main characters)
What I especially liked about ”The One I Love” is that it’s a smart and small movie that is not trying to be pretentious and artsy – of those kind that are slow and hard to watch, burdened with their artistry and attempt to say something deep (like beautiful but soulles “High-Rise“). While somebody could criticize it for not digging as profoundly as it could, I’d rather say that it intelligently leaves you enough space to analyze it by yourself. From one hand, it’s still some kind of a
weird story dark romantic comedy about a couple in crisis. But it’s also a psychological minimal science fiction with witty plot and unusual approach. And as you start to understand what is actually happening in the movie, it can get pretty creepy. In short, ”The One I Love” is a micro-budget ($100,000) film about a couple in crisis with lingering and memorable aftertaste. Last but not least, it’s a puzzle.
If you have seen an indie with Mark Duplass (“Cyrus“, “Safety Not Guaranteed“), a one man orchestra, then you’d probably know at least vaguely what to expect from “The One I Love“. Intimate atmosphere, unorthodox script and dialogues, warm human touch imbue almost all of his works. In case you are not familiar with his works, this movie could be a good reason to do it. It’s also was a curious case when the critics were asked not mention the plot of the movie since it’s pretty difficult to write about it without spoiling anything. Before the release, it had two kinds of a test screening – where the audience knew the main idea of the plot and where it didn’t (the second screening did much better).
“The One I Love” is pretty minimal, basically, it’s a theater with two actors – Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men“, “High-Rise“). Almost everything is happening in one location. But thanks to an original idea with some very good acting the film keeps you glued to the screen. It’s also a debut movie by Charlie McDowell, the son of legendary Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange“). It seems Mark Duplass has really a distinctive flair for revealing talent in young directors. He was contacted by McDowell who wanted to make something ”relationship-oriented” and during three weeks they with Justin Lader build up a very detailed 50 page script, where everything was described with smallest details – everything except for the dialogues, that were improvised by Moss and Duplass right during the filming to make the story more alive and real. 9 weeks later the movie done. Pretty quick even for such a small movie.
But small doesn’t mean that it offers little, right? You could draw some parallels between ”The One I Love” and brilliant ”Coherence” (a must-see!). Some other wonderful movies like ”Closer” and ”Sliding Doors” also come to my mind. But while the ”Coherence” was more about our choices and character formation in general, ”The One I Love” is rather a dissection of a couple relationship using science fiction to approach the question from an unexpected angle. It is an intimate story about something very private though still an experience almost all of us had. So I would rather rather leave you to analyze the movie by yourself. For those who are already in a relationship – go on and watch it together, it may be pretty thought-provoking for a good discussion.
What I liked less. Still, a movie deserves some criticism as well. While Duplass’ passion for micro-budget-oriented movies is indeed adorable – he even said that it’s actually easier to make money with a movie that has a budget of $500,000 rather than $5,000,000, I wish the film showed us the story from a bigger view. I suppose it’s not only a budget question though, but more of time and organizational matters since the movie was made barely in 3 months. At times I felt like the movie is a little bit too tight in its minimal setting for what it wants to explore.
The recepton. It’s always a pleasure to note that such small independent movies can gain good recognition – 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.1 with 27k IMDb votes and a Saturn Award nomination as Best Independent Film.
Worth watching? ”The One I Love” is a curious dissection of a couple relationship. If you love sci-fi puzzle and Charlie Kaufman-like movies, definitely check it out. It leaves enough space for psychological depth, while remaining a pretty quick-paced and at times creepy puzzle. The plot is sturdy and witty. So yes – instead of an endless array of various kind of romantic comedies whatever, watch ”The One I Love”. I don’t like this cliched definition, but it’s a thought-provoking movie indeed. While not perfect and probably a little bit too minimal (I still prefer ”Coherence”, which I consider a low-budget cinema masterpiece, but it was also heavier and darker), ”The One I Love” is an interesting, refreshing and original psychologic puzzle about all of us.
Final vote: 3/4
P. S. Read here Q&A with the Duplass brothers.