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Charlie McDowell wrote Dear Girls Above Me: Inspired by a True Story, a book based on a Twitter feed of his open letters to two ditzy female roommates in their mid-twenties who lived in the apartment above his. At first amused by their inane conversations, McDowell ultimately learned something about how women view men and themselves in a dating world that could count him as a victim, already having been dumped by the girl he knew was "the one."
But tweeting was a diversion and not an occupation for McDowell, an American Film Institute-trained filmmaker who has also dabbled in acting (as have his parents, Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen).
Charles Malcolm McDowell got not only a book deal out of his Twitter fame, but also the opportunity to direct his first feature-length movie. And so, with a Dear Girls Above Me fan base that includes Lena Dunham, Zach Galifianakis and Mark Duplass, comes the author's much-anticipated indie, The One I Love.
Opening at Rancho Niguel Cinemas in Laguna Niguel on Friday, after warm receptions at this year's Sundance and Newport Beach film festivals, The One I Love moves both forward and backward from the point McDowell found himself in while writing his hilarious and knowing tweets.
Duplass—who co-wrote and co-directed Cyrus, The Puffy Chair and Jeff, Who Lives at Home with his brother Jay but is probably better known as The League's Pete Eckhart—and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men's Peggy Olson) play Ethan and Sophie, a married couple on the brink of separation.
Their marriage counselor (McDowell's stepdad, Ted Danson, whose character is identified in the credits only as "The Therapist") convinces the pair to go off on a make-or-break weekend getaway to a lush property he keeps in the Southern California hills.
Slightly foreshadowing a plot twist worthy of The Twilight Zone is The Therapist's sliminess, which falls somewhere between Danson's George Christopher on Bored to Death and Arthur Frobisher on Damages. It's a spin in the story that, were it to be revealed here, would justify my immediate arrest and long incarceration with those two dingbats who lived above McDowell.
Here then is how the press notes for The One I Love describe Ethan and Sophie's attempt to save their marriage: "What begins as a romantic and fun retreat soon becomes surreal, when an unexpected discovery forces the two to examine themselves, their relationship and their future."
That sounds very heady, especially for a summer dramedy, so also know going in that The One I Love is largely bright and breezy, despite the subversive undercurrent. Credit Justin Lader's tight, smart script; McDowell's fine pacing; and the cast's acute comedic timing.
Propelling The One I Love to the level of must-see-now (versus wait-for-cable) is Moss' subtle yet revealing performance. What her part demands could easily slip into the farcical or cartoonish by most young actresses. Without words or actions, with only her face and posture, Moss manages to keep the audience from becoming confused amid the supernatural. It's truly breathtaking to behold, especially on the big screen.
Were the movie's plot twist to happen later in the story, as with the one in The Sixth Sense, it would be so much easier to fully describe what Moss accomplishes that is unique. The One I Love hinges on its spin right from the get-go and also requires Duplass to exercise the same acting muscles with his character, and he does so ably. Audiences are used to seeing his sad-puppy eyes and knowing smirk used to comedic effect. Here, he and Moss must instill layers of believability to the unbelievable—not for a half-hour sitcom (or Twilight Zone episode), but a 91-minute runtime. Both dive right in, just as Ethan and Sophie did when they fell in love and again when they tried to save their marriage.
One might say their hearts are all a-Twitter.
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