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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tribeca Review: Elisabeth Moss And Mark Duplass Star In The Refreshing Romantic Comedy, 'THE ONE I LOVE'

I think Hollywood is finally starting to understand the memo that movies can't continue to reuse romantic comedy tropes that worked in the 80s and early 90s on the millenial audiences of today. We saw it last year with Her and Enough Said, and continue to see a more interesting take on relationships in THE ONE I LOVE.

Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, Top of the Lake) and Mark Duplass (You Sister's Sister, The Mindy Project) star as Sophie and Ethan, a not-so-happily-married couple who opt to retreat to a house out of town in efforts to rekindle their romance at the advice of their marriage counselor (Ted Danson). With its familiar premise, you'd probably think the film would take a page out of one of the many romcom entries before it, tying up nicely with a neat ending. But that's one of the cool things about THE ONE I LOVE; it never goes where you expect it.

That is to say, the film's premise is merely a launch point that propels it into an almost fantasy territory which yields themes of broken promises and woulda/coulda/shouldas. And nothing, including our focal couple, is what it seems. You see, Sophie and Ethan have stepped into something like an alternate dimension, a bizarro world, if you will, where they come face to face with their ideal selves--for the sake of this review, I'll call them Sophie 2 and Ethan 2 (in the film they have no unique name distinction). When Sophie and Ethan encounter their hyperbolic twins, they want to believe that this vacation has really brought out the best in them, which is evident in such scenes as Ethan 2 finally opening up to Sophie about his past indiscretions and Sophie 2's more complimentary approach to her relationship with Ethan. Trouble is, the real Sophie and Ethan realize that their rekindling is as a result of a false pretense, and an overwhelming sense of doom and longing sets in. It's like smashing cymbals of what could have been and what never was.

Though the remains of their relationship soon stack up like a heap of debris on the ground, there is something very cathartic yet heartrending about watching Sophie and Ethan pick up the pieces. How can you move forward when you realize you can never have what you never realized that you always wanted? In a compelling performance from Moss, Sophie particularly puts herself through an emotional ringer as she tries hard to retain the image of her ideal husband, without succumbing to the fact that he isn't real. Should she hold on to this fantasy, or try to repair her actuality? Is it worth it either way?

On the other hand, Ethan rejects the significance of Ethan 2, regarding him as more like an android than anything else. In that respect, he never gets to the place where he is analyzing his relationship. Where Sophie ends up seeing him for what he is not, he perhaps for the first time sees Sophie for all that she is and accepts her unconditionally. It's an eye-opening experience for him to see what always was, while it's a chapter ending for her.

What's perhaps even more fascinating is that their eventual estrangement comes as a result of a deeper understanding of their relationship, however indirectly. Duplass, who I never really connected with on screen in the past, brings his signature deadpan approach to a more textured performance. He embodies Ethan's struggles to understand how he can finally realize what has been in front of him the whole time as it slowly deteriorates before his eyes. Watching Duplass and Moss essentially play mirror images of their own characters, sometimes in the same scene, further shows how the two have a deep understanding of their characters, so much so that they can present the yin and the yang without it seeming contrived. And both sides are equally as layered.

THE ONE I LOVE is a romantic dramedy in the greatest sense--complex, genuine, funny, ironic and devastating. Screenwriter Justin Lader's feature film debut is nothing short of stunning and hopefully signals a prolific career ahead. Meanwhile, director Charlie McDowell's first feature effort similarly allows for such a unique exploration of the trials of romance. Using Doug Emmett's too-good-to-be-true sunny suburban cinematography, he creates a thin layer of duplicity where you least expect it. McDowell also allows his actors to become beautifully unhinged yet wonderfully engaging at the same time. It's a refreshing treat.

Rating: B+


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