Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
So the deal with the guest cottage is that each time Ethan or Sophie enters without the other present, the other is present, in the form of a doppelgänger who looks and behaves like the real thing in almost every way. The only difference is that Fake Ethan and Fake Sophie (also played by Duplass and Moss, obviously) are—by Ethan’s own bitter estimation—about 20 percent more wonderful than the originals. Ethan is mostly freaked out by Fake Sophie, who’s so aggressively sweet-natured and accommodating that she comes across like a parody of a housewife on a ’50s sitcom. Sophie, however, gradually falls in love with Fake Ethan, who says everything she’s always wanted to hear from the genuine article. The film opens with an anecdote, told to Danson’s therapist, about Ethan attempting to recreate a romantic moment from early in the relationship, and it seems clear that the movie is largely about how disillusionment with a partner is based on rose-colored memories of who the person used to be. The moment the premise was established, I guessed that The One I Love would end with Ethan and Sophie each believing themselves to be with their perfect doppelgänger, only to discover that they’re actually with each other.
That’s not even remotely what happens, however. Near the end, it’s revealed that Fake Ethan and Fake Sophie are not just magical avatars created by this retreat for each couple who visits. They’re real people—another couple, former visitors themselves—who are somehow disguised as Ethan and Sophie, using futuristic technology that’s (wisely) never really explained. And their goal, at least initially, is simply to escape, trapping Ethan and Sophie in the guest cottage, at which point the latter will presumably have to impersonate the next couple Danson directs there. In addition to raising all sorts of unanswerable questions—like, say, why such a bizarre tag-team setup exists and what possible purpose it could have—this revelation means that rather than falling in love with an idealized version of Ethan, Sophie has fallen in love with another man entirely, who’s wooing her by performing an idealized version of Ethan. (He falls in love with her as well, forcing a distraught Fake Sophie to reveal the truth to Ethan.) The real-world subtextual relevance of this revised scenario is unclear, to say the least, and while the twist certainly defeats expectations, it also makes a hash of everything the film had seemed to be about, without offering anything resonant in its place.