The One I Love is a romantic black comedy that succeeds on powerful performance and improvised dialogue. To reveal anything of the premise, which unfolds within the first 20 minutes, would be unfair. But know that this film is 91 minutes of enjoyable puzzlement.
Ethan and Sophie are a young couple struggling to find the excitement and trust in their flailing marriage. Ethan (Mark Duplass) is cynical and determined. Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) is guarded and filled with disappointment. The film commences as their couple’s councilor (Ted Danson) suggests a weekend ranch retreat – a chance to “reset the reset button”. This is the setting for the remainder of the film, and the source of a confounding cosmic disturbance that forces Ethan and Sophie to look at each other anew.
Films set to this tempo (Primer and The Infinite Man come to mind) often squander precious time establishing their narrative. The One I Love, at a comfy 91 minutes, does it in record timing. The film shines thanks to Duplass and Moss. Their dialogue was improvised from a 50-page plot outline. This endows The One I Love with a brand of spontaneity that serves its romantic element. Protracted conversations never feel crafted; it’s authentic dialogue between an everyday couple. Duplass gives a dual performance that highlights his physicality, and the subtle revealing of Moss’ character is as deftly handled as you would expect from her.
The use of an ultra-wide lens helps to bend space within the guesthouse, skewing the audience’s view, adding a sense of confusion and discomfort. Sleek framing and flashy camera mechanics are a bit nullified by some focus faux pas (note Sophie in the diner scene). Also, moments of the sound design can be grating. The droning score often sounds like two Tibetan singing bowls scraping asphalt.
Careful collaboration between writer, director and the performers makes The One I Love excitingly fresh. Despite the supernatural, everything feels sincere because of the tightly improvised dialogue. This is an impressive indie feature shot for merely $5 million (pocket change in Hollywood). Takeaway lesson from the film? Never, ever, listen to Ted Danson.
The One I Love is now screening at Dendy and selected cinemas.