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The One I Love Is a Fairly Conventional Dark Comedy in the Guise of Mind-Bending Sci-Fi

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in The One I Love

Note: The first paragraph of this review discusses a twist revealed early on in the movie.

In the funny-strange sci-fi psychodrama The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a foundering couple, Ethan and Sophie, whose attempt to recover the happiness in their marriage takes them—on the advice of a therapist played by Ted Danson—to an isolated country estate where they meet … themselves. Or, rather, each of them meets someone who looks exactly like the other but is warmer and more attentive. Is it a dream? A shared psychosis? A portal to another dimension? (The couple ruminate on all these possibilities themselves.) The more urgent question is: What do you do when your mate is clearly falling for the person you were rather than the person you are?

The premise, which touches on themes as old as Ovid, could have taken the film in a number of directions, the most obvious being that Ethan and Sophie both come to prefer the company of their “new” spouses. But writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell take the man’s vantage throughout. Ethan doesn’t really care about the other, more solicitous ­Sophie—the Stepford Sophie. What fills him with dread is the sight of his wife lying, shutting him out, and drifting inexorably into the arms of someone (or something) with all his assets and none of his faults. Although it arrives in the guise of mind-bending sci-fi, The One I Love is a fairly conventional dark comedy of jealousy and emasculation.

It’s a very enjoyable one, though. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans teems with odd plinks and plunks, the whimsy unsettling. Duplass does a neat job differentiating the zhlubby, insecure Ethan from his smugly superior counterpart. But it’s Moss who takes the film to a higher, scarier level. After years of playing Peggy Olson on Mad Men, she knows how to smile and nod and say one thing while obviously meaning the exact opposite, and when at last she unleashes the truth, it’s with demonic intensity. She turns subtext into horror-poetry.

*This article appears in the August 11, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.