The date is December 31, 2005. My father—not really one to watch the lead-up to the ball drop—turns on Syfy’s annual “Twilight Zone” marathon. For someone with a young son, this was probably not the best idea.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a good marathon without the scariest episodes. So I, at the tender age of 7, was exposed to the likes of “The Living Doll,” “Night Call” and “The Dummy.”
After I recovered from the week-long nightmares, I resolved to confront my fears and watch the several DVDs’ worth of “Twilight Zone” we had in stock. Slowly but surely, the series began to grow on me and give me an appreciation for creepy cosmic hi-jinks that I retain to this day.
It’s because of this love that I found Charlie McDowell’s 2014 film “The One I Love” so enjoyable. While it retains some modern stylings, the film’s a love letter to the series.
I can practically hear Rod Serling now.
“Ethan and Sophie: two lovers fallen out of love. They’ve tried everything to rekindle that lost spark. In a last-ditch effort, they’ve gone to a remote mountain getaway for the weekend. But what they’ll soon find out is that they’re about to get some permanent counseling in ‘The Twilight Zone.’”
And that’s pretty much the whole story. Sophie and Ethan go up to the mountains for a retreat at the behest of their marriage counselor. They have a great time hanging out, eating dinner and smoking pot. Eventually, they go down to the guest house for some…er…intimacy.
When Sophie later mentions that magical night of love making to her husband, Ethan has no recollection of it.
Soon Ethan has a similar experience, and the two deduce that they’re sharing the property with copies of themselves.
Besides Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, the only other person in the film is Ted Danson as their therapist, and he has only around three minutes of screen time.
The film’s minimalistic casting and setting (not to mention run time—the whole thing is only 91 minutes) are integral to what makes it so good.
With only two actors, both Duplass’s and Moss’s performances are very exposed. Luckily, both are phenomenal in their respective roles, so all the extra attention only serves to highlight the great job they’re doing.
It would be a pity if, in a film purely about relationships, the leads didn’t have chemistry, so it’s a good thing that Moss and Duplass are as good together as they are individually. The sum total of their performances is a couple that feels genuinely together.
Two weeks ago when I wrote about “Short Term 12” and how “real” it was, I described the film by saying that I had almost forgotten I was watching a movie (or at least a work of fiction). “The One I Love” is real not because of a believable story or setting, but because Ethan and Sophie feel like a real couple.
Sure, we don’t know much about their back stories or who they are as people the way we did in “Short Term 12,” but the way they interact gives us more information about how they relate to each other than anything in the other film.
If you want an in-film example of this, look no further than the interaction between Ethan and Sophie and their doppelgangers compared to their interactions with each other. When Sophie talks with faux-Ethan, he’s a pretty cool guy. He’s interested in her. He’s funny and active. He doesn’t even need to wear glasses.
But as Sophie soon realizes, he’s like a highlight reel of her real husband. While faux-Ethan may be better than the real thing, he’s just a copy.
In a way, all of Ethan and Sophie’s experiences with their respective doppelganger partners are more like a romance movie than real life—an approximation that can never replace the the real thing.