I am willing to speculate, somewhat tentatively, that I prefer the Duplass brothers as actors and producers to directors. The Boy and I have seen three of the boys’ movies (Baghead, Cyrus, and Jeff, Who Lives At Home), only missing their most recent (The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, I think it was called) probably because, well, something more promising was playing.
In fact, I think it might have been the delightful Safety Not Guaranteed, which they produced and in which Mark (the acting brother) had a role. Actually, Jay also acts, but I think Mark acts more and Jay directs more. I don’t know. They do a lot of everything.
The key thing about them, though, is that their projects have a distinct style. Their stuff always screams “independent film”. Also “low-budget” but “independent”, because they don’t really do exploitation stuff—even Baghead, ostensibly a slasher flick—was more a character study than kin to Friday the 13th.
So, what makes a Duplass brothers film? Well, it’s going to be low-key. It’s going to have a starkly realistic feel, and if there’s a non-realistic aspect to it, that’s going to create a certain mystery that causes you to doubt whether or not the non-realistic aspect is really real…or not. Heh.
There’s gonna be a lot of acting. Not hammy stuff. Not showy stuff at all, in fact. But a whole lot of subtle exchanges and character dynamics never fully expressed in words.
It’s gonna be short. It may not feel short, however, because of the low-key thing.
And so we come to The One I Love, directed by newcomer Charlie McDowell and written by newcomer Justin Lader, the mysterious story of a couple (Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss) sent to a get-away-from-it-all-and-repair-your-marriage spot by their therapist (Ted Danson).
Things start out pretty well. Then they get weird. Then they get really weird.
The movie is powered entirely by Duplass and Moss, and typifies (to the extreme) what I mean by “a lot of acting”. Duplass performs well, and Elizabeth Moss (who I guess is a TV person, a regular on “Mad Men” and “West Wing”) holds her own next to him. The range of emotions and intentions and character developments that they must communicate is very impressive indeed, and also necessarily constrained by the situation.
Which you’ll notice I’m not describing in any way.
Because that would spoil it.
It’s a fun film. It’s not, as I was somewhat worried, an icky psychodrama, as movies around marital difficulties can be. The movie doesn’t really try to solve their problems so much as raise the ultimate question of what it actually means to be in a relationship with someone. There’s a light touch to this, a bit of a thriller-ish aspect, even.
The Boy and The Flower both enjoyed, and agreed that one of the reasons it worked was that it didn’t try to explain too much. It simply set up the rules, dropped a few clues, and let the drama play out, as the correct focus of the film.
As I say, I think I liked it (and Safety Not Guaranteed) better than the Duplass written and directed films, perhaps because the touch of fantasy/mystery/suspense in this and Safety make a more compelling hook to engage with.
Directed by newcomer Charlie McDowell and written by Justin Lader, whom we hope to see more of in the future.