Phillipa Soo, Simu Liu, and Luke Bracey star in One True Loves, which has commitment issues when it comes to its rom-com approach.
What if your husband came back from the dead during your engagement party with another man? OK, let’s rewind. The moment Emma (Phillipa Soo) met Jesse (Luke Bracey) at a pool party, she was smitten. When Jesse confessed he was also drawn to her, an ordinary night became the start of an adventurous love story. Together, they explored the world, with Emma writing travel articles and Jesse complementing them with his photographs. Their whirlwind romance bloomed into marriage. But barely had they begun the journey to the rest of their lives when their world came crashing down.
After a helicopter crash that left no known survivors, Jesse was declared missing with no trace of him to be found and eventually pronounced dead. After grappling with despair, Emma eventually found love again in the form of her childhood friend, Sam (Simu Liu). And just as she’s about to start her second lease on life, Jesse somehow returns.
This is how One True Loves begins, with Emma, Jesse, and Sam’s hearts on the line. And in a situation as impossible as it is precarious. Based on the namesake book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, One True Loves tells the story of two potential happily-ever-afters and the agonizing position of the woman who faces an agonizing choice. Directed by Andy Fickman, the film texplores complicated questions about grief, rebuilding, and selfhood. And it reframes these ideas using a staple of the romantic genre – the one and only love triangle.
The film can be seen through the eyes of each of its three pivotal characters, whose unique situations carry different kinds of hurt, helplessness, and loss. Emma’s position is one of absolute powerlessness, but also maximum agency. We would expect that the weight of carrying the love and fate of both her relationships would provoke a contradictory, confusing, and incredible range of emotions. Selfishness, anger, and devastation, but also joy, gratitude, and love.
“I refused to admit you were gone.”
Unfortunately, Emma’s emotional landscape in One True Loves ends up mostly unexplored by the end. The movie mentions her feelings more than it actually delves into them. This leaves the viewer wanting to hear more from Emma herself. What was her immediate thought upon Jesse’s return? Was she mad at the world for all its cruelties? Or was she relieved and drawn back into her old self? Or something else entirely?
While the film offers hints of what goes into the choice Emma ultimately has to make, we don’t get to see the internal struggle it takes her to get there. Worse, we barely get to know Emma’s interiority as a character, or get to know her much at all, even beyond what’s going on in her head and her heart.
Jesse, from the start, comes across as charming, fun, and loyal. But he’s especially compelling when he returns after his disappearance and only wants to see Emma. In just a few moments, he delivers a gut punch to Emma and the viewers, as his unreserved relief is a tangible thing, making the pain he will come to endure even more gut wrenching. The movie makes sure to portray his love in all its fullness and certainty, implying just how crushing it would be for him to lose his marriage.
But also, who is Jesse outside his relationship with Emma? How did his disappearance change him? How painful is it to return to the world, beyond his marital struggles? One True Loves doesn’t even offer much of a glimpse into his inner journey.
A lopsided love triangle.
Sam actually fares a bit better as a fleshed out character, if only because we get to see more of him. Not just with Emma but in his own spaces — in the company of other teachers and interactions with his students. We get a flavor of his sense of humor, his approach to awkwardness, and his teacherly blend of faltering strictness and friendly approachability. For these reasons, he ends up being the easiest character in the movie to fall in love with.
After watching the meant-to-be love story between Jesse and Emma unfold, it would understandably be difficult to root for Sam. Yet the movie succeeds in making a case for Sam by focusing on how disappointing it would be to see such an endearing great have his heart broken, breaking our hearts, too. Sam’s journey is where One True Loves works great, with scenes that are fun, funny, and emotionally salient.
Overall, One True Loves delivers on its promise of romance and intrigue, especially for such a hook of a premise. But it dips its toes into both drama and rom-com territory without fully committing to either. For a story rooted in an emotionally complex plot, the lack of its exploration is a missed opportunity.
One True Loves is now available in theaters and on demand. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of The Avenue
ONE TRUE LOVES - 6/10