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The One I Love- director Charlie McDowell, screenwriter Justin Lader, Sundance London

‘Happiness is something we need to recreate’ are almost the first lines of filmmakers Charlie McDowell’s and Justin Lader’s debut The One I Love, a sort of romcom sci-fi set in the idyllic mountains of Ojai, California.
Ethan and Sophie are in therapy- or at least their relationship is- after a hinted at infidelity committed by Ethan, and as a last chance saloon, they are offered the perfect weekend retreat away by their guru [Ted Danson] where they are supposed to ‘reset the reset button’, in choice pop psychotherapy vernacular and return to that ‘recreated’ happiness mentioned in the film’s voice over. But all at the retreat is not as it seems, and in a surreal Charlie Brooker kind of farce, Ethan and Sophie come face to face with their more conscientious and wiser doubles- and whilst Ethan remains skeptical of the more attractive Sophie, Sophie [the real one] immediately falls in love with Ethan’s alter ego, who, it has to be admitted, is distinctly nicer, sexier and more intelligent than the real thing- a construct of happiness. So far so good, in what promises to be an Ingmar Bergman meets Woody Allen meets Charlie Kaufman film fantasy- except that one suspects that the filmmakers suddenly become much more interested in the film’s conceit, than in the characters themselves. Unfortunately this too is the affect on the audience. Early in Act One I thought I was in for an interesting discussion on cosmic occurrences and aberrations, I hoped that the doubling idea would shed more light on the troubled couple’s reflections on themselves and what their relationship could be if only they let it, and what and who each other could be for each other, if only they had faith, hinting at creations of happiness and perception along the way. However, somewhere this focus was lost and instead the remaining two acts centered on mainly Ethan’s attempts to get to the bottom of the real identities of the doubles. ‘This isn’t Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ‘ says Ethan at one point, although I found myself wishing it was. However, some satisfying resolution is reached at the film’s end, with real Ethan and real Sophie experiencing dawning epiphanies and the audience does not go away feeling too empty handed.
Cinematically, there are some choice shots to take note of- look out for a confrontation between the real Ethan and Sophie, who, whilst sitting opposite each other in conversation, are filmed in entirely different set ups and never, in the editing at least, shown to be in a master two shot- hence implicating their separation further. Some Tarkovsky lovers might find themselves idly fantasizing about Stalker for brief moments, but that’s more about what the retreat comes to symbolize rather than any borrowed style. There’s also some nice metaphor imagery involving Matryoshka Dolls, although one can’t help thinking that if only the characters had got the symbolism earlier then the film needn’t have been so long.

Saying that the directing and pace is assured from Charlie McDowell and as a first feature for both him and Justin Lader, it is pretty impressive. Mark Duplass as Ethan and Elisabeth Moss as Sophie also give intricate and well-paced performances.

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