Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in 'The One I Love'

Review: ‘The One I Love,’ Good Fun, Told With Bracing Honesty

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in 'The One I Love'
Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in ‘The One I Love’

In real life, relationships are tough. In movies, they’re impossible.

The One I Love, written by Justin Lader and directed by Charlie McDowell, begins with a couple at the breaking point. We don’t know much beyond that about Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), though it appears Ethan is to blame for this particular crisis. But as a session with a therapist (Ted Danson) reveals, they’ve both fallen into patterns of conduct and speech that reflect the fractured state of their relationship.

The therapist suggests visiting a guest home in the countryside for the weekend in order to try and work things out. Upon arrival at a beautiful, isolated house, Ethan and Sophie are both open to reconciliation, yet it’s obviously a fragile thing that could smash into a thousand pieces at almost any moment. They pass a little time together in peace, and then Sophie visits the guest house on the back part of the property. From there, things take a decidedly unsettling turn, opening the weekend up to many possibilities that neither Ethan nor Sophie could ever have imagined.

The main thrust of the movie revolves around Ethan and Sophie as they try to reconcile their differences and make the relationship work as it did in the past. Neither is violent nor unreasonable, which makes The One I Love a very relatable experience; they want their relationship to endure, despite all the challenges they’ve been facing lately. Still, like any loving couple at a turning point, they both recognize that a desire for things to work out is no guarantee that they’ll be able to achieve their mutual goal, especially since each one has different ideas on how to resolve matters.

Duplass and Moss are well-matched in age and temperament, though Moss is a better all-around actress; she can deftly shift from the lighter, humorous moments to the darker emotional depths without demonstrating any strain. Duplass is an able comic performer, though he’s much more limited when called upon to convey the dramatic turmoil suffered by his character. As a result, the very funny comic highlights shine more brightly for the couple than the more intense sequences — but only by a tick.

Lader’s script is above-average and so is McDowell’s direction, which burbles with conflicting moods and tones that are generally quite effective in their mixture, until certain repercussions play out with a heavier hand as things begin to wind up. Those missteps are easy to overlook, however, because by that point Ethan and Sophie have become a winsome, winning couple, fully deserving of a satisfying romantic resolution to solve their problems.

Do they get it? That becomes less important than the beguiling, appealing manner in which they struggle to achieve what every couple wants.

The film opens exclusively at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, August 22.