When I first saw The One I Love, I had zero expectations. I thought it was a romantic comedy with Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jeff Who Lives at Home) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) by some dude named Charlie McDowell. The One I Love starts off like every romantic drama/comedy you’ve ever seen. But just 13 minutes in, the film throws out all of your preconceived notions and becomes something indescribable. The problem with writing about the film is that most of the press have (in good faith) agreed to not reveal its central premise, because the premise is essentially a twist. While it’s annoying to write about something when you have to dance around the “twist,” I’m going to lay out the plot as best I can:
The One I Love centers on Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss), a married couple on the brink of separation. Having not been the most faithful husband, Ethan struggles to keep Sophie interested after his improprieties. Awkward attempts to rekindle their once playful relationship by recreating past dates illustrate how far they have fallen and how trite their love life has become. At the urging of their therapist (Ted Danson), they escape to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway to salvage what’s left of their relationship. The break from life’s distractions appears at first to be just what the doctor ordered… And then it gets pretty crazy.
The film is the feature debut of Charlie McDowell, a man probably known more for his Twitter account and his first book, Dear Girls Above Me,than for being Malcolm McDowell’s son and Ted Danson’s stepson. As a director, he manages to combine a banal relationship drama with a Twilight Zone premise and elevates it into a high-concept romance tinged with humor and extraordinary pathos. What starts off as a relaxing and tranquil retreat soon spirals into a dizzyingly bizarre experience that forces the couple to reflect upon the complexities of their troubled partnership. Capturing remarkable and nuanced performances from his two leads, McDowell deftly turns a low-budget relationship study into a surprisingly complex head-trip where up is down and you are me and I could be anybody.
I sat down with McDowell, Moss, and Duplass to discuss the film. Enjoy!
VICE: What’s going on, guys?
Mark Duplass: Talking about ourselves, pontificating.
Specifically about yourselves? Not your characters or anything?
Duplass: Our characters, too.
Well, I guess that’s all we have to talk about, since we can’t talk about the twist.
Charlie McDowell: You’re really upset about this.
I am upset. I like the twist. So, in your own words…
Elisabeth Moss: You’re going to torture us.
In your own words…
Duplass: You’re going to make us dance like fucking monkeys!
In your own words, describe the film. Sell it without ruining it.
Moss: You sound so aggressive!
Duplass: I would say I don’t need to sell the movie, because the movie is fucking awesome. My take on talking about the movie is that basically, you know…
McDowell: [robotic voice] Let me give you the generic answer that we've given everyone else.
Duplass: Come see a romantic comedy, but be prepared to have it blown up pretty early on and keep an open mind about what it can be. At the end of the day, it’s this magical, strange film about relationships. We’re examining what it’s like to be a couple when the shine comes off and you’re trying to fight to keep it together.
OK, you sold it better than I expected. How about you, Charlie. What does the director have to say?
Moss: So mean! "How about you? Now you try…" You know what? Don’t see the fucking movie! Don’t worry about it, OK?
McDowell: Was that not good enough? Don’t you have enough with that?
Moss: Go see something else. I hear Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is fantastic.
Elisabeth, how would you describe your character and what makes you different in terms of expressing yourself in the relationship?
Moss: For me, it is about a couple that’s going through a hard time.I always play characters that are very different from myself, and this was the closest I got. But then there’s this whole thing that we can’t talk about that was extremely challenging as well. I was completely terrified before I started. I remember driving up to Ojai, California, after wrapping Mad Men and thinking, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, and these people are totally going to catch me and think I’m an idiot, and I’m not going to be able to do this, and…
Duplass: They might kill me.
There are only three people in the entire movie, and you’re alone in a house.
Moss: And I arrived in the dark.
McDowell: You only came because we promised we had pressed juice. That was the selling point.
You’d just send her pictures of all of the juices as ransom.
Moss: They had to send pictures every ten minutes to keep me driving.
Duplass: "If you don’t get here in one day, we drink all this fucking juice!"
What do you want in the one you love?
Moss: That’s what we talked a lot about in the beginning, before we started shooting, because we had to hit the ground running with only 15 days to film. I think everyone is different in a way, which is what makes it so hard, because everyone’s looking for different things. However, there were these essential things like: communication, honesty, trust, sense of humor. These were things we could all kind of agree on—universal things.
What about you, Mark?
Duplass: Well I’m married. We’ve been together for almost 13 years. One thing that has been so important in maintaining our relationship is self-awareness. Arguments are just going to come up. The thing I value the most is the ability to be in a fight, and then one of us catches ourselves and is like, I’m just being totally defensive. I’m wrong. I’m sorry. That quality is what sustains relationships for me, and I love it.
You’re the one who initially had the concept for the movie. Was it something you came up with in order to talk about your own issues?
Duplass: To be fair, it wasn’t that far developed. It was the kernel of an idea, a feeling, a sketch. I didn’t really understand what was in there, and it was Charlie and [screenwriter] Justin Ladder who drew all of that stuff out.
How did you and Justin flesh all of that out?
McDowell: We took that idea that when you start a relationship, you present the best version of you. You sort of become a character. We really responded to that, because it felt like something that everyone can relate to. From there, it was just about figuring out who the characters were, and the plotting came second. We knew we had a location we could shoot at, and part of it was just budgetary reasons. It kind of unfolded naturally once we had all of the pieces there, and we could see what stuck.
The amazing thing about this film is how everyone comes at it from a different context. This film is a great microcosm of itself…
McDowell: See you can talk about the movie without revealing the twist…
Moss: Stop patronizing him!
You’re killing me. Don’t direct me, director.
Even if Charlie won’t tell you to see it, The One I Love is in theaters and is available on VOD platforms. It’s being released by Radius TWC and is a pretty awesome fucking movie.
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