A sort of “Twilight Zone” rom-com, “The One I Love” takes an intriguing idea, runs with it, and then beats it to a pulpy mess. With a plot that’s more suitable for a “Saturday Night Live” skit, director Charlie McDowell’s film alternates woozily between funny, charming, boring and unwatchable, but is saved at every turn by the charm of its leads.
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are seeing a marriage counselor (Ted Danson, in a very small cameo), who suggests they might revive their relationship with a few days spent at a magically beautiful rental property in the mountains. There they discover that there’s not only a main house, but a guest cottage which seems to have magical properties.
It seems that whenever either of the couple enters the guest house, they encounter their spouse’s doppelgänger. This leads to a period of comic confusion, as they try to figure out what’s going on, whether these twins are real or some sort of drug-induced hallucination, and finally, why one spouse seems to like one of the doubles more than the real thing.
At this point, about halfway through the picture, “The One I Love” dips into tedium, thanks to too much talk and a plot that becomes overly repetitive (it also seems to be riffing on the 1945 film “The Enchanted Cottage,” in which a homely woman and scarred ex-GI become attractive when they enter the building in the title). Recovering somewhat, the film finally explains what’s up – an explanation that, by the way, doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense – and then ends on a surprisingly ironic note.
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Throughout all this, the movie seems to be saying something about the multiple personalities we all have, and which one our significant others love the most. But it deals with this interesting question in an all too slick, and generally mindless, way. Which means that the movie’s saving grace is the effortless and utterly charming performances of its leads. Moss, best known as Peggy Olson on “Mad Men” (a show I must admit I do not watch), is sexy, smart and full of fun. Duplass, an actor-director responsible for several smart indie films (“Jeff, Who Lives At Home”), is Moss’ match in the sex appeal department, his average-man good looks used to great effect whether he’s displaying jealousy, confusion or lust.
It’s a shame these two compelling actors do not appear in a better film. “The One I Love” certainly has its good points, but they are only fleeting; riffs on a theme that could have been taken a lot more seriously.