The One I Love
2014 • 91 minutes • RADiUS-TWC
I’ve gotten bolder about spoilers in recent years. (Years! I literally described my first book review as being “years ago” to someone the other day, which kind of blew my mind.) That’s gone hand in hand with a shift away from more traditional pros and cons promotion towards cracking open a text’s bones to get at that delicious, delicious bone marrow. And you can’t get at that stuff with hurling spoilers right and left. I’ve stopped reading reviews for books or films I absolutely know I am going to consume until after said consumption and started blatantly marking spoilers were appropriate. I like to think that I have come to term with spoilers.
And then a movie like The One I Love comes along (a year late, because, as we’ve established, I operate about a year behind when it comes to movies and a decade behind when it comes to television), and I just can’t spoil it for you. It’s not that The One I Love is entirely predicated on its twist and isn’t worth watching even if you know about it. It’s that the twist is all part of the film’s meditation on human interaction—the ways we can connect, the ways we can’t connect, the way we perceive ourselves, and the way we perceive others. The film eventually tries to explain the twist, somewhat ham-fistedly but in a way that leads to its utterly smashing final shot, but its best moments come when its sf elements are used to dissect the human condition.
In short, The One I Love is a perfect example of the best of a kind of cinematic speculative fiction that we rarely get these days. In a post-The Lord of the Rings film industry, most speculative fiction films tend to be big budget special effects extravaganza. All five films nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form for the Hugos this year heavily feature special effects and visual spectacle. (I am still very upset that The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated for a Best Animated Picture Oscar, because we’ve never really seen anything like it before. I mean, we’re about to inundated with its sequels and spin-offs over the next three years, but still.) So it can be very easy to forget (especially in the wake of the Sad and Rabid Puppies scandal) that speculative fiction is an inherently inclusive genre. All it takes to “qualify” is a single element that changes our reality enough to give us a new angle on it. (You can, of course, parse it even finer, but by that point you’re already in the theme park and we’re all wearing the wrist bands.) There is a single obvious special effects shot in The One I Love, although there are probably others that are just perfectly seamless. Largely, The One I Love is just two people in a house trying to work their way back to each other, wondering if the new avenue the twist provides for their relationship can be used for good, for ill, or if it can even be trusted.
That means that we spend all of our time with Mark Duplass (as Ethan) and Elisabeth Moss (as Sophie), with almost a cameo by Ted Danson as the therapist that sends them to the retreat the film takes place at. And while the film was extensively mapped out, all the dialogue was largely improvised. It makes for a cozy atmosphere that sharpens beautifully when, at the end of the first act, the twist shows itself. Moss, in particular, as the one most intrigued by it, is amazing. I haven’t watched Mad Men (I am not kidding about being ten years behind on television; I just started watching 30 Rock), but her Sophie is so sharp and warm and human. It’s stunning work.
The One I Love has flown largely under the radar, to the best of my knowledge—though, while I’m slowly getting more and more into film, I hardly have my finger on the beating pulse of the industry. I just listen to the Empire podcast and anything Captain Cinema tells me about movies. Usually, I’m not a fan of seeing interesting films that actually do something different get ignored, especially since mass distribution is less and less of a problem these days, but it does mean that most people will be able to come to The One I Love sight unseen. And that’s the best way to see it—in a way where it can develop, breath, and surprise you, in a way that few films are allowed to.
I watched this film on Netflix.