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Movie Mondays: THE ONE I LOVE review

I have a love/hate relationship with what is considered “indie” film.

On the one hand, the fact that the tools to make films and to experiment with that medium are cheaper and more prevalent than ever before and that is an amazing and exciting development that allows for diversity in visual story-telling. I love the energy of independent films: it’s walking a tightrope without a safety net. Everything is on the line. Everyone is putting in their all on the prayer that their film gets noticed in a big enough way that they can break even, get another job, or better yet make money and launch a career. Indie films are often intimate stories that often focus on the real and dirty parts of the human existence in a realistic or honest or even scathing way.

On the other hand, many of the films I’ve seen or read about that come out of the festival circuit with lots of buzz are just plain weird. For a while there was a cinematography “style” where shots were never fully in focus. A lot of the festival favorites are so myopic in their “slice of life” tale that the audience has no idea how the characters got themselves into their particular situation or how it will all resolve even after the credits roll.

But what I truly hate about independent films is that I often don’t feel a damn thing once I’ve watched it. The film might be thought-provoking, even interesting, but more often than not, indie films follow completely unlikable characters and use odd plot devices to get their characters into a strange situation and I don’t end up enjoying the ride. I feel nothing except the confusion that I spent an hour and a half watching good actors and beautiful cinematography and good editing/sound design and I felt no connection to the characters, to their dilemma, and when it ended I couldn’t care less.

That was my experience of THE ONE I LOVE.


Spoiler alert: skip this paragraph is you want to watch the movie: THE ONE I LOVE follows a married couple in counseling to save their marriage (been there) and the wife, played by Elisabeth Moss, is saying that she and her husband (played by Mark Duplass) fundamentally disagree on how to go about saving their marriage (been there too). The marriage counselor suggests they go on a retreat but when they show up to this beautiful house in Ojai, CA, no one else is there – no other couples in distress, no counselors to help guide their weekend, no planned activities. Basically, they are there to have amazing alone time and reconnect. Also on the property is a sound studio and a guest house. When the wife goes into the guest house alone that night, she’s greeted by her husband in a fun and loving way and they sleep together. Only the next day, when she returns to the main house, she finds her husband asleep on the couch with no recollection of what happened the night before. The husband then enters the guest house and discovers his wife happy and loving and cooking him breakfast and bacon – but she normally hates it when he eats bacon. When he leaves the guest house and runs into his wife, he starts to realize that something weird is going on with some alternate beings. The wife wants to stay and try things out, see where it goes, try something new, and this is where the film lost me. It basically was the wife’s excuse to cheat on her husband and get him back for cheating on her and her lack of surprise or caution about these alternate selves was completely unbelievable to me. It becomes clear that these alternate selves are the perfect versions that each spouse wants from the other, but as time progresses and the wife gets more and more involved with the fake husband, these alternate beings become stronger. They can leave the guest house and go into the main house. The husband goes to the sound studio and finds files that indicate that these alternate selves were coached by the marriage therapist to become the perfect identities of the husband and wife. Questions remain. Are these real people who’ve undergone plastic surgery and voice coaching? Are these some kind of spiritual being that becomes more and more real? The fake wife confesses to the husband that only 1 couple can leave the compound at the end of the weekend and that the fake husband has truly fallen in love with the wife. The fake wife is truly in love with the fake husband, so she doesn’t want the fake husband to run off with the wife, leaving the husband trapped in the guest house until another unsuspecting couple in distress shows up and whatever happens physically/vocally to have them take over the new identities.  So the husband stages an intervention and it seems like the wife is on board but then as they leave, in a PARENT TRAP move, the two wives are wearing the same clothes and the one that leaves with him ends up being the fake wife. How do we know? She makes him bacon. And the husband seems okay with this once he realizes it because he’s happy.

Yes, there are things to think about, and what does this all mean about the nature of love and marriage and therapy and change…but it stayed cerebral and therefore missed the mark for me. And I was all primed to have an immediate identification having tried to save my own marriage. In contrast the movie HER had me bawling my eyes out because it hit so close to home with the dissolution of the first marriage. But THE ONE I LOVE? Nothing. I felt like I was waiting for the big reveal, or for it to turn super creepy, or for it to get funny, or dramatic, or real. But it was just flat.

Granted, there’s all kinds of unbelievable plot devices in Hollywood films, and maybe not all films need to make you feel. But I guess that’s what I look for when I sit down at night in a dark room and want to suspend my disbelief for a couple of hours.

Two other well-loved movies that fall into this same category with the exception that I basically hated myself after wasting my time with them were ALL THE REAL GIRLS (I really wanted to love it) and UNDER THE SKIN. It’s not enough to have a story that’s told well. It needs to be more or it needs to be edgy or it needs to be weird or it needs to be opaque. And isn’t that just putting the same amount of pressure on filmmakers that Hollywood places for its films to be bigger and high concept and epic, just for an opposite effect? I feel like the only area of filmmaking that safely fills the middle ground is the documentaries coming out. They are very human, they make us feel, and whatever is weird or quirky is so organic to the subjects that it makes sense. And, yes, there are certainly many films that come out of festivals and get distribution that don’t fall into this “weird” category like PIECES OF APRIL or KELLY & CAL or LOVE AND AIR SEX (which was what I wanted to watch the other night instead of THE ONE I LOVE).

In college, I wrote my honors thesis on viewership. I wanted (and still want) to understand what people get out of films and why. It’s a fascinating combination of the viewer projecting their own self onto the screen and absorbing the characters and stories presented. So I know that my expectations, my background, my identification patterns are the main issue here. I really believe the movies we love, like the books we love, become woven into our consciousness, into our identity, and end up becoming snapshots of places in time, of who we were, what we liked, what we wanted. They are just as telling as photographs or home videos or that time, maybe more so because they speak to something beyond the surface.

I’m often asked what my favorite film is, which is truly an impossible task. I like so many for so many different reasons. And many of these films need to withstand the test of time – what stays with me, what do I watch again? So here are some that I’ve come up with:

SAY ANYTHING: This is always my go-to favorite film because it’s the one I’ve seen the most and the one that stayed with me throughout my preteen, teen, and adult years as a story that made me think about what I wanted out of life, what I wanted from someone I loved, and it always always made me feel.

MEMENTO: I love stories that are told in an anachronistic way. This is so well acted and well done overall, so well conceived, and keeps me on my toes. It’s a beautiful and perfect film.

AMERICAN HISTORY X: Such a tough film to watch but so well done.

REAR WINDOW: As a photographer myself I guess I have a special affinity for films about photographers, but this is my favorite Hitchcock film. Scary, contained, fascinating to watch. So controlled.

SECRET OF NIMH: So beautifully drawn and the songs are amazing. I love everything about this film.

WATCHER IN THE WOODS: A terrifying Disney movie that is such a great example of how to be scary in very simple ways.

OUT OF SIGHT: Funny, colorful, rhythmic, great sound/music, amazing editing, best film J.Lo ever did, anachronistic storytelling. Another perfect film.

WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU: This film came out at a very particular time in my life and again was full of feels for me.

GIFT: This is a Jane’s Addiction/Perry Farrell acid trip that is amazing.

BRAZIL: I love this movie, how it looks, how it’s acted, how it’s told, everything. It’s everything.

HARLAN COUNTY, USA: I think this is a perfect documentary. So well done, so beautifully and amazingly shot. Such an incredible story to capture, and such a rich culture to tap into.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND: Love the story, well acted, great in-camera tricks. Beautiful. I also liked the follow up SCIENCE OF SLEEP.

SLEEPER: Speaking of sleep, this is the best Woody Allen movie ever in my mind.

BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET/MIDNIGHT: Excellent series from top to bottom, beautifully done. Great long shots. Great dialogue. Very real and honest.

TRUE ROMANCE: The only Quentin Tarantino movie that I truly love. I like his others, I enjoy watching them and he does some amazing stuff. But my favorite is the one he didn’t direct.

TRAINSPOTTING: I love anything British. The beginning of my Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller love affair. Such a great film. I just wish the baby looked more real. It’s such a crucial moment in a very raw film and it just throws me out every time.

ATONEMENT: Began my love affair with James McAvoy. Amazing single shot in the middle of the film. Really interesting balance between heightened emotions and the intellectual reflection by the “author.”

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE: The writing in this film is masterful (of course it is Tom Stoppard) and is so beautiful to watch, and Geoffrey Rush steals the show.

DIVIDED WE FALL: I had a hard time with LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, but with this Czech film – the humor in the midst of the holocaust works for me so so well. But, then again, my family is Czech so I’m biased.

DIE HARD: Best action movie ever. ‘Nuff said.

THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN: Is it possible to have a film dream? Yes it is.

THE GRADUATE: Classic, amazing, and the last shot will forever be rebellious to moviemaking and storytelling.

Okay, I need to stop because I’ll just keep going with more and more films. Movies that I’ve loved recently: HER, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (the original Swedish version), DISTRICT 9, and AUSTENLAND. And I look forward to the ones that make this list in the time to come.

#independentfilmmaking #ElisabethMoss #TheoneIlove #indiemovies #CharlieMcDowell #indiefilms #MarkDuplass #moviereview #JustinLader

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