The One I Love is a darkly skewed romantic comedy

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Starring Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass. Rating unavailable.

Love the One You’re With might be a more suitable song-reference title for this darkly skewed romantic comedy. Unfortunately, there’s no way to explain that, or to discuss the few elements here, without giving the whole game away. So if you don’t want to read on, let’s just say that fans of the Charlie Kaufman School of Low-Budget Absurdity will be intrigued, if ultimately disappointed, by The One I Love.

The excellent Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men’s own Peggy Olson, plays Sophie, half of a Californian couple going through a mild existential crisis. Mark Duplass, of Baghead semifame, is less convincing as husband Ethan, who has agreed to see a marriage counsellor (Ted Danson, seen briefly), with rather strange results. After determining, on his handy office piano, that they are literally out of tune, he sends them on a couples retreat in a lush, vineyardlike setting.

They have a whole villa to themselves, plus a smaller guesthouse, and that’s where the fun begins. When Sophie investigates, she finds Ethan already there. Okay, it’s Ethan, but a mellower, sexier version of the guy. But when she heads back to the main house, hubby doesn’t remember a damn thing about their previous encounter. Then he goes on a solo outing and encounters a sleeker, more purringly compliant Sophie in the kitchen—making bacon he’s not supposed to have. Woo-hoo!

Therapeutically speaking, what’s most clever about Justin Lader’s script is that these idealized clones are only “about 20 percent better” than the originals, according to Ethan, who starts figuring things out. The big problem, apart from Charlie McDowell’s somewhat wooden direction and dialogue that is not quite as sharp as it should be, is that the doppelgängers are not mysterious projections of the couple’s own desires and limitations, but some kind of half-assed sci-fi–thriller creations. They ultimately confuse the main story instead of adding to it. (Dostoyevsky it ain’t.) And if you don’t have much investment in either couple’s outcome, the effects are mildly engaging but not that easy to love.

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