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They say bartenders make great therapists, but does that still apply long after the bar has been sold and the bartender has moved on? Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) would probably say no after their couples therapist (Ted Danson) sends them on a very strange weekend retreat.

The married couple arrives at the prescribed destination to find that the grounds — including a main house, guest house and numerous gardens — are theirs and theirs alone for the weekend. Well, kind of. It seems that part of the good doctor’s plan to help the couple work towards becoming better versions of themselves, and in the process become a better couple, involves a very unique way of facing and experiencing those better selves.

The One I Love is about some very universal feelings and themes — ones we’ve all experienced in real life and seen portrayed onscreen — but it presents them in refreshingly original, engaging and entertaining ways. I’m being vague here for those that want to go in fresh, but fair warning, I’ll be revealing a little bit more after the jump. (Still nothing that legitimately counts as a spoiler though.)

The two met and fell in love over a spontaneous late-night swim in a stranger’s pool, but as time passed they found themselves drifting apart to the point that one of them cheated and they found themselves making a desperate attempt to recreate the magic of that initial night. The weekend getaway is meant to return the focus on to each other, and it seems at first to be working. They soon realize though — individually at first and then collectively — that the partner they’ve been enjoying time with is actually not their partner.

Frightened at first, the couple decides to ride this “‘Twilight Zone’-type shit” out and see where it lands them. Sophie wants to explore the emotional ramifications, but Ethan is more interested in the nuts and bolts of it all. While he tries figuring out how it all works by snooping and throwing out challenges, she sees a light at the end of their relationship trouble tunnel.

Romantic comedies have long dealt with couples in a state of flux, but while the punchlines have differed the playing field has typically remained the same. Director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader — each making their feature debut here — have shifted the familiar conversation into an unfamiliar realm with fun and (casually) suspenseful results. The expectations we have of ourselves and of our lovers shift and change with time, and that’s to be expected, but what if those changes move us too far away from each other? And how far is too far anyway? And what if the one you’re with can’t make cool aardvark metaphors?

The film deals with these issues like any other film would — albeit with the benefit of sharply written dialogue and a pair of immensely talented and likable leads — but the added narrative element brings new challenges and ramifications to the process. It’s exciting being dropped into a recognizable world that quickly shimmers into something refreshingly foreign, and the drama inherent in the story is joined by suspense brought on by this new thread.

But those positives come with a few unfortunate negatives as well. Sophie and Ethan aren’t quite balanced as well as they ideally should be in a film focused on the couple leading to Sophie receiving more development and understanding. And while it doesn’t hurt the overall effect of the film and narrative, the goings-on at the retreat are left extremely vague. Whether a narrative choice or simply an effort to avoid complicating things with explanatory details, the specifics behind much of the events are left non-existent.

The One I Love is a smart and funny film that puts an enterprising spin on a familiar subject, and the result is an inspiring stab at something new. Duplass and Moss more than hold their own as the film’s only cast members (aside from Danson of course), and Moss in particular shows yet again that she’s a treasure deserving of much wider recognition.

The Upside: Strong performances; engaging narrative; refreshingly original take on relationship dramedy; great ending

The Downside: Third act vagueness when it comes to explanation/resolution; slight development imbalance between Sophie and Ethan

On the Side: This is one of two darkly tinged films Mark Duplass has playing at this year’s Fantasia. The second one is Creep.

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Editor’s note: Our review originally ran during this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release.


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