Ethan and Sophie's marriage is crumbling, and it's easy to understand why. Ethan, played by Mark Duplass, is paying penance for not-so-recent infidelity. Sophie, played by Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss is finding it difficult to trust her partner again. Both are keenly, painfully aware that the spark that brought them together in the first place is now awfully weak.
So, like many couples in a similar position, Ethan and Sophie end up spending an hour a week with a therapist, played here by a silver-haired Ted Danson, trying to share their feelings civilly, even as resent threatens to bubble over at every turn.
With therapy not working, Danson shuttles the pair off to a weekend treat at a palatial vacation home a good drive outside of Los Angeles. Every couple he's sent there comes back refreshed and rejuvenated, he tells them.
And it is at this point that you realize something -- really everything -- is just a little bit off. The One I Love starts like an indie rom-dramedy, but it morphs in to something straight out of The Outer Limits.
Ethan and Sophie's weekend away comes with a peculiar guest house. Every time each of them enters it, they are greeted by an "improved" version of their mate. Sophie finds an Ethan that is loose -- his hair is tussled, his glasses are off -- funny and more interested in her needs. Ethan finds a Sophie that is cheery rather than dour. She even lets him eat bacon.
The fact that they are sharing time in the guest house, but their memories are distinct and discrete reveals a supernatural bent to this story. Independent of each other, Ethan and Sophie do seem to be rediscovering what bonded them in the first place. The realization that they aren't sharing experiences in the guest house, though, backfires. The warm, dappled glow of the guest house is contrasted by the cold realities of the rest of the villa.
Ethan and Sophie can still share a joint and a laugh with each other, but before long the distrust and disappointment surfaces. Ethan keeps his glasses on and his smarmy side-part in place, even after Sophie mentions that she prefers his surfer-dude hair. Like any cheater, he is deeply distrustful of Sophie's time in the guest house. Sophie, meanwhile, is pretty much as humorless as ever except for when she's in the guest house thawing her emotional deep freeze with her not-husband.
A different kind of movie would use the peculiar, apparently enchanted guest house either for comedic value or to, y'know, let the healing begin. The One I Love is unflinching and unforgiving of its main characters, though. The mystical guest house, rather than bringing Ethan and Sophie closer, deepens the fissures between the couple, making them appear even more irreconcilable.
There are two rather sizable twists, backloaded in the plot, that help to explain what's really going on in the guest house. On Twitter, Duplass has implored viewers not to spill them, and that fits in well with our general policy around these parts when we're crafting publishing our reviews.
You don't really need to know the twists to understand what sets this film apart from both the rom-coms and navel-gazing indie relationship-and-feelings fests that are, at least superficially, similar. The real twist to me is the rapid disintegration of Ethan and Sophie's relationship in a place that is supposed to repair it.
A house that could replace your actual spouse with an idealized fantasy is an unsettling proposition, and The One I Love gets that piece perfectly right.