Need to Break Up? ‘The One I Love’ Will Ruin Your Relationship This Labor Day Weekend

On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

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Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: Is This a Trip… or a Test?

Whether you’re dodging death at a White Lotus or camping with “The Parent Trap” twins, the vacation is a notorious killer of relationships. With every fork in the road comes the possibility for conflict, and the collateral damage can be catastrophic to even the most solid connections. Hunger, exhaustion, and inconvenience will spell break up faster than you can text your therapist, “Am I REALLY ending my marriage on this flight to Toledo?” And with Labor Day Weekend upon us, it’s safe to say some soon-to-be ex-partnerships are already beginning their final descent into hell.

In Charlie McDowell’s sharply simple “The One I Love,” Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as Ethan and Sophie: a struggling couple recovering from infidelity, whose marriage counselor (a very “Good Place”-esque Ted Danson) recommends a weekend getaway to get them back in sync. When the testy travelers discover a strange quirk of their accommodations, however, they’re forced to decide whether to stay in the mysterious magic of their eerily idyllic California rental (fun fact: that’s Danson’s actual house! Hooray, indies!) — or flee a “Twilight Zone”-type scenario better left unspoiled.

The husband and wife’s answer doubles as the solution to an oddly brutal dramatic question: Will they or won’t they work it out? And more critically, knowing what they do now, should they?

"The One I Love"
“The One I Love” Courtesy Everett Collection

A Rorschach test for commitment-phobic cinephiles, this under-seen indie debuted at Sundance in 2014 — and is easily the tamest IndieWire After Dark selection to date. Where shockers like “Kuso” and “Parents” use gore, and screwballs like “Junior” and “Any Which Way You Can” use gags, “The One I Love” employs endless restraint and builds chilling anticipation with its fraught, personal consideration of intimacy, philosophy, and the individual experience of selfishly searching for a soulmate.

Our site reviewed the film back then (Cory Everett gave it a “B”), and Anne Thompson interviewed Duplass from the festival. You won’t find any mention of the midnight movie sphere in that coverage. But the star/executive producer’s comments underline why it qualifies for this column’s consideration.

“I’m not a snob about having my movies watched at home,” Duplass said of the VOD market then. “That’s a great place to watch a movie about relationships and faces and feelings. I have no problem with people watching my movie in a home instead of a theater…That being said, I do believe certain movies should live in a theater and should be seen there first. They’re great communal experiences. [‘The One I Love,’] actually, is a nice communal movie, but you only need one or two people to see it with.”

Like a knot you can’t get out of your low back during a long car ride, Ethan and Sophie’s mismatched affection is a gnawing ache that will leave you begging for the relief of talking it out with someone — anyone. Plus, it’s chockfull of dangling details, metaphorical and literal, that are worth pondering late into the night. If you dare to watch “The One I Love” with your significant other, your collective reaction to its ending will tell you everything you need to know about the future of your film-for-film romance. If you watch it alone, that sinking feeling will still be there when you go back to work on Tuesday. –AF

The Aftermath: I Wish I Could Say That’s the Last Time I’ll Be Tempted to Take Advice from Ted Danson

A couples retreat for marriages on the rocks seems like it would be a great business to run. You could get away with astronomical prices, because anything you charge will be cheaper than a divorce. You’d be credited as a miracle worker whenever two of your clients were able to salvage a relationship. And most importantly, nobody would ever blame you when it didn’t work — because they’d be aiming all of their bitterness at their soon-to-be-ex.

In that sense, I think Ted Danson and his dastardly co-conspirators dramatically overthought things when they conceived of this elaborate trap. Danson’s comforting vibe and people’s desperation to avoid divorce could have been a lethal combination that made a lot of people very rich. I would have simply… not done this.

"The One I Love"
“The One I Love”Courtesy Everett Collection

Questionable business practices aside, “The One I Love” poses a series of fascinating thought experiments. You could theoretically make a simple movie about any one of the questions it explores: Would you leave your partner for an idealized version of them? Would you feel insecure about your partner spending time with an ideal version of you? Is Ted Danson handsome enough to convince anyone to do anything? The fact that they’re all explored to various extents helps it avoid falling into “‘Black Mirror’ episode that overstayed its welcome” territory.

I really enjoyed the movie, but it’s possible that I didn’t have the “proper” reactions because I became adamant in my belief that Ethan just sucks. He was already a smarmy weasel of a man, and then we learn that he cheated on her? And made virtually no attempts to communicate about it despite her inexplicable willingness to work things out in therapy? I apologize to anyone who reads IndieWire After Dark for its full-throated defenses of the institution of marriage, but I was practically screaming at the TV for Sophie to ditch him for his sexy doppelgänger.

My distaste for the character made it all the more enjoyable to watch both versions of his wife lusting over the version of him from an alternate universe where contact lenses exist. I kept thinking of the hilarious realization that Frasier Crane reaches at the end of the “Ski Lodge” episode: “All the lust coursing through this lodge tonight, all the hormones virtually ricocheting off the walls, and no one was chasing me?”

I’ve thought about it all week, and I honestly can’t say what I’d do if placed in the same moral dilemma as Ethan and Sophie. The only thing I can say for certain is that “The One I Love” doesn’t feature any weird Josh Brolin pie scenes — which makes it a better pick to stream this weekend than anything in the Labor Day movie canon. —CZ

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “The One I Love” on Hulu. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

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