Fran Hoepfner's Elevated Cinema: The One I Love

Fran Hoepfner is a comedian and writer in Chicago. She reviews films under the influence.

The Film: The One I Love

The Director: Charlie McDowell

The Year It Came Out: 2014

How I Watched It: Netflix and chill, baby

Have I Seen It Before?: No

How High Was I?: The regular kind, with a glass of red wine for ambiance

Okay. So: I wanted to watch a vaguely romantic movie on Valentine’s Day; so I decided to watch The One I Love. I guess you could qualify The One I Love as an anti-romantic comedy. I would call it a drama with some jokes. It’s weird: Are comedies, by nature, anti-dramas? No one cares. Don’t worry about it.

The One I Love is a movie with a premise. It’s got a buy-in. There’s a thing that happens, and it happens approximately ten minutes in, and it sets the course for the rest of the movie. That’s fine! I can appreciate a buy-in. I like a good narrative jolt. But I should say, first and foremost, that one of my biggest pet peeves is to be told to “just watch the movie.” People hesitate to spoil things, which, sure, very conscientious of them, very caring, very thoughtful. But I want to know what I’m buying. We live in a tireless, capitalist society, and I want to know the movie I’m paying for.

So from here on out, I’m going to spoil the buy-in for The One I Love and you cannot be mad at me. You can stop reading or keep reading. Those are the two things.

Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie––a youngish married couple going through a hell of a time. They bicker, they squabble. There was very recently an “incident” between them and everything is very shaky. In turn, their therapist, whose name I’ve forgotten but he’s played by Ted Danson (!!!), suggests they go to a villa up north for the weekend to sort things out. He’s recommended this trip to several other couples, and it’s always helped them. That’s fine, they think, and I think it’s fine too.

The villa is beautiful. I have a hard time believing, on principle, that anyone who lives in California is unhappy, but I know that is Midwestern naïveté. Sophie and Ethan have a lovely first night, talking and drinking and smoking weed. This seems great. I’m on board. Then Sophie runs over to the guest house where, hey, there’s Ethan, in a different shirt, hmm, and without glasses, sure, and they have sex, which, okay?

 To that I say: spoil the movie. The movie is ruined. I’ve saved you ten minutes of your life. 

Except––here’s the THING, here’s the BUY-IN––when Sophie and Ethan go to the guest house (separately), they encounter alternate versions of the other. Sophie gets a Better Ethan and Ethan gets a Better Sophie.

Better is a weird word. They don’t get an improved, shinier version of their spouse. It’s mostly that they get the best version of them. They get the version they idealize. Ethan’s Sophie makes him bacon, shrugs off his stubbornness, wants to cuddle in the middle of the night. Sophie’s Ethan does sit-ups and has more emotional intelligence than any living man will ever realistically have.

See where this goes wrong?

I do. I’ve been thinking about it all day. (Happy Valentine’s Day!) Because for Ethan and Sophie, the alternate versions of themselves are their worst nightmare. Their best selves are actively working to destroy and manipulate their way into the lives of their real selves. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. But it’s the fun, freaky mindfuck that is easy to get on board with.

There’s two of ‘em? Sure. I’m in. What fucks me up––and rightfully so, I think––is that what if the best version of yourself is also the worst version? What if you can sit across from a dining room table from your best and most idealized self and find that he or she is a fucking asshole? That’s bad! That’s messed up! I keep thinking about my best version of self, who knows when to shut up and somehow always has a good hair day. I hate her, and yet, if given the opportunity to be her, I’d jump without a second thought.

IMDB describes the plot of The One I Love as: “A troubled couple vacate to a beautiful getaway, but bizarre circumstances further complicate their situation.”

Even IMDB is in on this game, hiding the premise, hiding the idea that this movie is about going on vacation and finding a nightmare, perfect duplicate self. To that I say: spoil the movie. The movie is ruined. You know there are two of them. I’ve saved you at most ten minutes of your life. But who cares. You know now. Smoke a weed and move on.