A romantic fantasy takes a turn into a darker corner of the Twilight Zone
One of the more clever premises seen in what pretends to be a romantic comedy, director Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love is a devious romantic fantasy straight from the Twilight Zone. The only thing missing from its surprising narrative is Rod Serling.
Leads Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss carry this twisted romantic fable in unexpected directions, keeping you guessing until the end. A married couple is headed towards separation, when a therapist suggests a weekend retreat for a fresh perspective. What begins as a romantic getaway quickly becomes a surreal odyssey for the couple, fraught with hidden danger. This is a fresh, imaginative concept that examines the inner workings of a relationship far better than dozens of predictable romantic comedies churned out by Hollywood.
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) have lost that loving feeling in their marriage. Nearing separation, they visit a therapist played by Ted Danson in the hopes of saving the marriage. He quickly suggests a weekend getaway at his private retreat. Everything starts out swimmingly for the isolated couple, as both are giving a sincere effort in rekindling their passion. The private retreat is a lavish estate, including its own guesthouse on the property. That guesthouse quickly becomes the focal point of the entire movie, as something happens in it that turns The One I Love from passable relationship fodder to a wickedly twisted story of love. Romantic comedies are largely derided for their predictable, formulaic stories. Mark Duplass is no stranger to reinventing the genre. His wonderful turn in Safety Not Guaranteed, a more sentimental story, feels like a second cousin to this emotionally darker film.
The less one reads about this movie, the better off a viewer will enjoy its many twists and turns. Something begins to happen in the guesthouse that greatly affects both Ethan and Sophie, turning their relationship upside down. You know something magical is about to happen from the very beginning, The One I Love does not take much time in revealing its true nature. What would happen to your relationship, if your spouse met a doppelganger of you that was better in every way? That question lies at the heart of this film, which goes in an unexpectedly dark direction.
Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are perfect choices for their believable, complex characters. Will their relationship survive this unusual test, or fall apart completely? The movie works because it is easy to sympathize with both characters’ emotional choices, as they react to the totally fantastical situation. The One I Love bears all the hallmarks of what made the Twilight Zone such compelling television, using extraordinary circumstances to examine how ordinary people react when confronted with the impossible. This is one of those movies you will want to watch again as soon as you see it for the first time.
Distributed by Starz for the Weinstein Company, The One I Love arrives on Blu-ray in a respectable presentation that seamlessly hides the film’s extensive greenscreen work. Running 91 minutes, the main feature sits on a BD-25, presented in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio at 1080P resolution. The AVC video encode averages a fine 24.68 Mbps. That is not reference compression parameters, but the digital video rarely manifests much more than faint banding.
The digital cinematography does tinker with the color-timing in certain scenes. The video is sharp with solid definition. Exterior scenes are far more vivid, displaying extreme clarity and very pleasing detail. Interior scenes are another matter, especially since the film’s VFX are employed more heavily inside the home. Some conscious manipulation of the contrast and overall gamma appears to have been used to hide the more blatant greenscreen shots, affecting clarity and depth. They are darker with a more yellow push to the palette. As a result, flesh-tones are somewhat inconsistent between scenes.
The transfer is largely untouched as there are precious few signs of overt processing and filtering. This is not the most detailed picture for a new movie. The cinematographer takes it easy on Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as aging actors. Black levels lack superior refinement. This is not the stuff of videophiles’ dreams. One should remember this was an independent film – it barely made a dent at the box office. By the general standards of romantic comedies, it has good picture quality that does not get in the way of its wonderfully twisted narrative.
The One I Love has decent, if unspectacular, 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio. There is some light ambiance and hints of subtle atmosphere, but its directionality is mostly confined to the front soundstage. The dialogue-driven film has cleanly-recorded speech. If I had a complaint, the instrumental score is mixed too evenly with the dialogue, sometimes drowning it out. This is not an action-packed effort but some focus is given to the playful score, which is quite helpful in establishing the correct mood and tone.
Starz provides optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. They display in a white font, remaining inside the 2.35:1 widescreen feature at all times. No foreign dubs have been included.
The obvious absence from the commentary is Elisabeth Moss. There isn’t much here beyond the commentary, though I learned a great deal from its brief featurette demonstrating the visual effects. Both trailers precede the main menu.
Feature Commentary with Director Charlie McDowell and actor Mark Duplass – This is a very relaxed, off-the-cuff discussion. It’s probably too relaxed, as both seem very content to let the other talk. Neither man seems totally prepared for it, casually going over a few anecdotes in the free-ranging commentary. Duplass provides some interesting background information on the production. The core idea begin with a small pitch from the actor and he then let others fashion a workable script.
Visual Effects Reel (02:01 in HD) – This accomplishes more in two minutes than I’ve seen in some featurettes running over ten minutes. We are shown how the greenscreen work was accomplished on set, as the finished scene is blended with raw dailies. A neat special feature that should be emulated more widely.
Horns Trailer (02:09 in HD)
Snowpiercer Trailer (02:10 in HD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.