Thursday, May 19, 2016

The One I Love

2014, d. Charlie McDowell  -- the Movie Network

It could be said of almost any movie, the less you know going in the better.  But only a few movies deal with premises that rely upon a surprising twist for the premise of their movie, especially in modern filmmaking.  The marketing of cinema in the internet age begins often before the film has even started production, where announcements on casting and creative teams, Instagram or Twitter reports from set, and teaser trailers (and even pre-teaser trailers) all begin to build up hype long before a film is ready to be seen by an audience.  As such watching a film has become more about filling in the gaps left by trailers and spoiler sites than about genuine discovery.

Movies like The One I Love one need to cautiously withhold their central premise, and instead rely upon intrigue in the promotion, rather than any revelation.  But it's a gamble.  For my part, when I first heard of this film, I was told to "just see it, don't read anything more, or even watch the trailer", and I followed that advise to the point that I forgot the name of the film (it is kind of a generic title).  Ultimately, I knew the cast (Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) so I kind of knew what to look out for, but again, avoiding the marketing push (it's a smaller film so there wasn't much of one to begin with) means there was less awareness in general.

The film is a light drama, utilizing some fantastical elements to tell its story of marital discord and a couple's weeklong retreat to try and rekindle their romance.  It's not a whimsical film, instead using its fantasy elements to help externalize the inner desires of the characters.  The drama of the film lies in one character's acceptance of this externalization and the rejection of it by the other.  I'm being cagey and vague to maintain the element of surprise, but it should be said that it's still all pretty low-key. 

I could liken the film to the Channel 4 anthlogy series Black Mirror, a modern-day Twilight Zone.  Yet, where Black Mirror tends to deal with the influence of outside pressures, presences and technologies on the modern (or, in extrapolation, a future) life, here it's less about any sort of technological infraction upon our lives, and more a straight exploration of relationship dynamics with fantastical elements. Even still, it has that kind of feel as a smaller-scale production (the film literally features only the two actors, Moss and Duplass, with Ted Danson fulfilling a tiny role at the beginning).

It's a intriguing movie, if perhaps a tad overlong for its conceit.  It's not an unrewarding film, but it will leave the viewer a little frustrated as it presents clues as to what the source of its fantastical elements may be but doesn't provide enough clarity to even hazard a guess as to what it could be.  The intentional vagueness and obfuscation of this aspect is its primary flaw.  It would actually have been more satisfying if it didn't even attempt to provide background, if it left the audience completely in the dark.

Moss and Duplass are a great match, both providing performances that can easily go unheralded but are absolutely brilliant in their subtlety.  It's the nuances they have that flesh out their characters, providing an easy tell for the audience of their state of mind.  You could say if these nuances were so easy for the audience to discern, then how could the characters not catch it?  But that's the point... the characters are either willfully blind or emotionally succumbing, either way there's meaning behind the actions and reactions.