Listing this as a romantic comedy is a severe injustice. The One I Love is equal parts comedy, drama, psychological thriller, with a dash of science fiction. It’s the kind of romantic comedy that Christopher Nolan would make if Christopher Nolan made romantic comedies.
The storyline starts out simple enough – a married couple having lost that loving feeling is off on a weekend retreat to see if anything can be done to renew their love for each other. Expecting to have a weekend of soul-crushing, existential dialog on the meaning of love and their relationship, they instead walk into this weird, alternate universe where each one morphs to become the ‘perfect version’ for the other to love.
Or do they?
The tightrope in marriage is being who your spouse needs you to be while not compromising who you really are. This tension often cracks marriages wide open as many couples simply can’t be who they are as individuals AND be who their spouse needs them to be. When push comes to shove, one side is often chosen over the other. But which side to choose? The selfish ‘I gotta be me’ side or the selfless ‘I choose to love you’ side? Can a marriage truly be healthy if both parties don’t answer the same way? Can it be healthy if one answers one way and the other the opposite?
It’s this tension that The One I Love attempts to enter into and does so with mostly positive results. The script is full of humor that is easily missed as well as tensions that are brushed over in the first act. Out of the gate, it’s just not a tightly written, polished script. It doesn’t remotely set up how deep the conflict and hurt really is between the two. We’re presented an average couple having an average marriage with average problems trying to solve it with below average counseling. There’s no diving into this tension and exploring it at full speed.
Maybe that was by design as the reality is most couples present themselves in this way even when they are really hurting. Never the less, the first act is at times both awkward and wandering. You’ll probably have to work through it to get to the back half of the film. This is my biggest critique of the film – would have loved more time in the tension than in the setup.
As a sidenote – probably the best film to ever do this was Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The One I Love is not to that level of good but I still enjoyed the journey.
The real sense of the tension sneaks in after they spend their first night at the weekend getaway. From here out, the performance of Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss shines. The frustration and silence of a marriage in flux really takes center stage.
Of course, this is also where the “Christopher Nolan” effect kicks in and adds a whole other layer to the genre “romantic comedy.” There is a twist…then another twist. Then one more. I can’t get into the specifics as to ruin the twist but it’s the time between the second twist and the last one that I wish more time was spent. The payoff is good. Could have been better.
Basically the full nuanced dynamics of marriage aren’t on full display and more could have been explored in this area. As the tension rises, you totally get set up for the last twist – which you do see coming but you don’t mind it at this point. The payoff scene is one that every married couple should watch. It’s raw truth about marriage that rarely gets put on film. You will know it when you see it.
It’s a good film. Not excellent and it won’t become a classic but I did enjoy the journey. I went back and forth between 3 and 4 stars. It’d be a great conversation piece in a married life group. Amy (my wife) didn’t have the same feelings. She loved a few of the scenes and particularly the last act of the film but in her words – “it took a long time to get there.” I quote her again – “It’s one of those ‘artsy’ movies.”
It is rated R for profanity and adult thematic material.