January 22, 2014



The trouble with trying to recommend THE ONE I LOVE , written by Justin Lader and directed by Charlie McDowell, is that it’s impossible to describe how clever, surprising and intriguing it turns out to be without giving up its secrets.  It begins straightforwardly–so much so, in fact, that you might need to restrain an “Ah, Sundance” bit of impatience.  All too familiarly, there’s the handheld camerawork, the improvised dialogue, and the couple on the skids.

The pair are yuppies Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), and it seems fair to disclose that one of the reasons their marriage is in crisis is that Ethan has cheated on his wife.  They go to a couples counselor (Ted Danson), who recommends that they spend a weekend, just the two of them, at a nearby estate, a lovely place with a main building and a guest house where he says he’s had wonderful results with other couples having difficulties.

So far, so conventional.  But then, the night that they arrive, something very odd happens, and this is where further description becomes a problem.  What occurs next may be metaphysical, or science fiction, or perhaps it’s a collective hallucination.  It may remind you of Her as it goes on, although in tone and theme rather than in any plot specifics, and there are nods along the way to other genre stories (giving their titles would itself say too much). It’s at times hilariously funny, and at others more than a little creepy, and all along it manages the tough feat of working as a puzzle while also having something to say about marriage and identity.

This much is certain:  the film becomes a showcase for Duplass and Moss, and they’re superb.  Very subtle gradations in their performances end up meaning a great deal, and they’re in control of their personas every step along the way.  McDowell, too, working on what was clearly a tiny budget, handles both the mostly invisible special effects and the challenging mix of tones beautifully.  There are very effective contributions from editor Jennifer Lilly and composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, and cinematographer Doug Emmett shoots the estate luxuriously.  Although much of the dialogue was improvised, there’s a tight structure to the storyline that makes sense, and the film culminates in an ending that manages, remarkably, to be both somewhat ambiguous and yet satisfying.

The One I Love may be too small in scale to get beyond the arthouse and VOD circuit, but it’s well worth seeking out.  You’ll just have to trust me when I say that it brings an entirely new and original spin to the dysfunctional relationship genre.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."