The One I Love

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson
Directed by: Charlie McDowell (debut)
Written by: Justin Lader (debut)

“What’s the safest way to talk about this without spoiling the movie?” actor Mark Duplass (“Your Sister’s Sister”) asks himself when an interviewer with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer poses a question to him about how he would personally handle the situation his character is facing in his new, bizarrely clever, dark indie rom-com “The One I Love.” Duplass’ vague, Socratic response to the question is proof that there really isn’t a way to have a meaningful conversation about the film (much less write a review) without dropping some major spoilers. Now, I’m not talking about ruining a critical twist in the climax of the movie like revealing that Bruce Willis is a ghost or that Gwyneth Paltrow’s pretty head is in the box (apologies to those of you who never saw “The Sixth Sense” or “Se7en”). Instead, the twist, which becomes the entire central idea behind “The One I Love,” happens fairly early in the film and is exactly what first-time feature director Charlie McDowell and first-time feature writer Justin Lader probably wouldn’t want you to know about until you were sitting comfortably in your movie theater seat (or on your couch at home since the film has been available On Demand for a few weeks) experiencing the strangeness of the narrative without any preconceived notions of what is to come. And therein lies the rub. How do you write about a movie that doesn’t lend itself to be written about? Simply put: you can’t—unless you want to offer up an assortment of hypothetical questions that don’t add up to much.

With all that said, don’t read past this paragraph if “The One I Love” is something you plan to see any time soon. Take the advice actor Colin Hanks tweeted after he saw the movie earlier this month: “Read nothing about it before you see it … then enjoy the hell out of it.” Then again, practicing self-control is rather difficult when something you know you shouldn’t be looking at is dangling right in front of you (just ask those Jennifer Lawrence nude photo gawkers that actually have a conscience but click the links anyway).

In “The One I Love,” Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (TV’s “Mad Men”) star as Ethan and Sophie, a couple on the brink of a divorce, who decide to take a vital step in fixing their marriage by going on a weekend retreat to “reset the reset button” and sort out all their differences as husband and wife. Their mini-vacation starts off normal enough (eating a nice dinner, playfully bantering, smoking a little weed), but when Ethan and Sophie begin to explore the isolated property on their own, things start getting very creepy (in a Rod Serling, “Twilight Zone”-esque kind of way, not a Stephen King, dead-twins-in-the-hallway kind of way). Shacked up in the guesthouse away from the couple’s main quarters are living, breathing ideal versions of themselves. A clearer way to explain what Ethan and Sophie discover might be to say they find in these doppelgängers what each of them wishes the other possessed in character traits so their relationship was more harmonious. For example, fake Sophie is a little less high-strung and projects a more confident, sexier vibe, while fake Ethan is more emotionally present and carefree.

The setup is intriguing as Lader lies down some ground rules, so things don’t get too complicated too soon, the most important being that the real Ethan and Sophie can only enter the guesthouse individually to spend time with their simulated significant others. It becomes a test of how much magic realism viewers can handle as the odd situations start to take place and McDowell and Lader invite everyone to jump on board. It’s much easier to play along in the first two acts, when Ethan and Sophie’s fantasies are manageable one-on-one encounters, but as soon as the story allows the foursome to occupy the same space is when “The One I Love” begins to unravel under its ambitious albeit directionless ideas. It’s almost as if Lader got to a point in the script and, not knowing where to go, jumped off a cliff and hoped for the best.

When “The One I Love” lands, what is left is a pair of convincing, double-duty performances from Duplass and Moss, who are able to isolate some of the small differences between each of their two characters by staying true to the genuineness of the real Ethan and Sophie and not falling into “Stepford Wives” territory with their counterfeit counterparts. It’s particularly true for Duplass, who brings the most humor to the film, especially when real Ethan starts getting jealous of fake Ethan as real Sophie becomes more smitten by him. An original a premise as you’ll likely see this year, “The One I Love” might not be able to close out as efficiently as it would’ve liked, but it does present some valuable themes about appreciating every aspect of a relationship no matter how flawed it is. It’s what Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” called “the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Big Miracle

February 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”)
Written by: Jack Amiel (“The Prince and Me”) and Michael Begler (“The Prince and Me”)

Not counting “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” movies about whales are usually aimed squarely at kids, teeming with mystical mumbo-jumbo about the intelligence of the giant creatures and their special connection with children and the close-minded adults who are too caught up in, oh, I don’t know, providing for their families to actually appreciate the marine mammals. In most cases, appreciation usually comes right before the credits roll. Throw in some big-time movie stars slumming in a movie their kids can watch and a goofy animal friend, like a dog that covers its eyes when something goes wrong or a seal that barks comically at the grumpy old man threatening to shut down the amusement park/aquarium/whatever, and you’ve got yourself a movie any third grader will love. Thankfully, “Big Miracle” avoids this formula.

“Big Miracle” is based on the true story of three gray whales trapped five miles from the open ocean underneath a sheet of Arctic ice and the international effort that arose to save them. Set fairly unconvincingly in 1988, the story opens with   reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) covering the local color in Point Barrow, Alaska. While out documenting a local’s less-than-spectacular snowmobiling stunts, Adam stumbles upon a hole in the middle of the ice, the frigid water inside regularly breached by the rostrums of the aforementioned whales surfacing to breathe. After Adam’s report on the trapped cetaceans goes national, the tiny frozen town is soon overrun with people looking to save the whales (nicknamed Fred, Wilma, and Bamm-Bamm), for both ideological and opportunistic reasons. Leading the effort are Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), a strident Greenpeace activist, her frequent foil, Arctic oil baron J.W McGraw (Ted Danson, not the least bit convincing as an oil man), and the local Inupiat tribe, all of whom have their own motives for participating in the rescue effort.

Director Ken Kwapis, veteran of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and numerous TV series like “The Office” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” wrangles a large cast full of comedy ringers in tiny roles (Andy Daly, Rob Riggle, and John Michael Higgens, among others) into a surprisingly funny and wry family movie. While other films about sea-faring mammals tend to play down to kids and overdose on the treacle (I’m looking at you, “Dolphin Tale”), “Big Miracle” isn’t afraid to lay bare the real intentions behind the characters’ actions beyond “let’s save these whales!” Barrymore’s Rachel uses the occasion to call into question the environmental policy of the Reagan administration. Danson’s McGraw provides heavy de-icing equipment to put an environmentally-friendly face on his oil drilling operation. Krasinski’s Adam and Kristen Bell’s Los Angeles-based reporter Jill Jerard see the international attention as the big break their broadcast careers need. And the Inupiats see an opportunity to show the world they are more than culturally out-of-touch whale hunters.

While sometimes ungainly with too many characters fighting for too little screen time, “Big Miracle” ends up entertaining nonetheless. The real, honest laughs come from genuinely funny scenes, like an exasperated teacher in a classroom full of students doing identical oral reports on the whales, an icy helicopter ride wherein the pilot’s frozen eyelids are creatively defrosted, or winking reference to Alaska’s favorite idiot Sarah Palin, thankfully not from the typical family movie stabs at humor like a mugging pelican or beat-boxing otter.