Movie Review: Fantasy complicates therapy in ‘The One I Love’

Seeing each other differently: Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in
Seeing each other differently: Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in "The One I Love."

‘The One I Love’
★★★

Couples counseling takes on a strange new dimension in this romantic dramedy with fantastical trimmings, as if the ordinary, everyday variety weren’t challenging enough.

Ethan and Sophie (indie acting/directing stalwart Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men”) have done all they can think of in an attempt to resuscitate their once-passionate, now moribund marriage. As a last resort, they’ve hired a marriage counselor (Ted Danson), who sets them down at a piano, has them play two random notes and declares that their “synchronicity” is off. He then prescribes a weekend in the country at a special resort he knows that’s guaranteed to give them a fresh perspective on their relationship.

And so it does.

It’s very difficult to describe how that happens without spoiling the story. Let’s just say that while the view is terrific at the secluded country estate where they spend the weekend alone (in a sense), the resort has a bonus feature that comes as a major surprise. Very odd things begin happening.

For starters, Sophie makes love with Ethan in the guest house the first evening, then walks back to the main house and becomes quite annoyed when he insists he’s been there all evening and has no memory of their earlier romantic breakthrough.

Like Ethan and Sophie’s marriage, “The One I Love” does have its share of issues. First-time director Charlie McDowell (son of actor Malcolm McDowell) takes a long time setting up the story and having Ethan and Sophie bicker back and forth while figuring out what’s happening.

And he seems to have had a hard time sorting out whether he wants the film to be funny, creepy, romantic, dramatic or all of the above. Also, as intriguing as debut screenwriter Justin Lader’s “Twilight Zone”-ish construct is, it’s also a fragile thing that doesn’t hold up to even minimal logical thinking.

That shouldn’t really matter if you can resist the temptation to start pulling at threads. “The One I Love” develops an ambitious set of plot complications, considering that it’s limited to two actors (with minimal chemistry despite their individual adeptness) and one setting. And it certainly plays with some interesting ideas in the context of examining a long-term relationship, including the toxic disappointment in romantic partners who fail to live up to idealized expectations.

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