Synopsis: Emma and Jesse are living the perfect life together until Jesse disappears in a tragic helicopter crash on their first wedding anniversary. Four years later, Emma has found happiness again and is about to marry her best friend when Jesse resurfaces, turning her world upside down and leaving her torn between two great loves.
Stars: Phillipa Soo, Simu Liu, Luke Bracey, Tom Everett Scott, Michaela Conlin, Lauren Tom, Michael O’Keefe
Director: Andy Fickman
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Never underestimate the power of a musical score to set the tone. Think about JAWS and the impact of the simple but ominous chords composer John Williams plunked out for director Steven Spielberg to signal the presence of a marauding shark. Or consider the invigorating music carried forward by Chariots of Fire. Anyone listening to that title track by Vangelis would be inspired to lace up their shoes and go out for a run (right after I finish this review, maybe, probably.). You want emotion? How about Michael Gore’s unforgettable work on Terms of Endearment, music I can barely hear without tearing up, or the timeless beauty of another Michael (Giacchino) with Up?
My point is that music can steer us toward moods just as much as anything visually on screen, and that becomes a big part of why One True Loves can’t rise above being such a soggy mush of untethered feelings. There’s barely a moment in director Andy Fickman’s (Heathers: The Musical) film that isn’t played over either a) composer Nathan Wang’s Hallmark score that’s either all giddy string plucks or morose swelling notes or b) the kind of sunny up-tempo pop you’d hear blasting out of a Bath and Body Works so loudly even the employees wander outside the store to get a reprieve.
Not that the story is worth saving to begin with.
Based on the 2016 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid (currently represented on Amazon Prime’s popular show Daisy Jones and the Six), One True Loves is the story of bookstore owner Emma (Phillipa Soo, tick, tick… BOOM!), a woman engaged to high-school music teacher Sam (Simu Liu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), her best friend from childhood. As they are enjoying pre-marital bliss, Emma receives a phone call… it’s her husband Jesse (Luke Bracey, Point Break), a man thought dead after a helicopter crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean five years earlier. Now caught between the man she loved before and had made her peace with losing and a new love that helped put her life back together, she struggles with the emotions of making a choice that will affect all their lives.
Boasting a whopping 56 (Fifty-Six!) producers and with a screenplay by the author and her husband, I’d assume the movie sticks close to the source material and its garden-variety melodrama. So, it’s up to Fickman and his cast to elevate it somehow, but sadly, despite Soo attempting to shine amid severe chaos, One True Loves is pretty ghastly. For starters, it’s composed/edited so that if you didn’t know some semblance of the story, it might be confusing who Emma was/is married to and when. The film jumps around in time to before she’s married to Jesse, to after she’s engaged to Sam, back to before she’s met Sam, and after she’s learned of Jesse’s disappearance. There’s little to indicate where we are in time, and it should be up to Fickman to provide that map for viewers which he seems not only unable to do, but unwilling to try.
On top of it all, the script (or the direction) has the characters doing astonishing (read: unrealistic) things in a story that’s supposed to present them as believably human. Emma is told over the phone by an unnamed AI-sounding voice that Jesse was in a helicopter crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the next shot, the very next shot, finds Soo at the end of a pier with binoculars looking out at the ocean. When her sister (the fun Michaela Conlin, Bad Trip, used here only to restate the plot at various points, almost to catch people up after commercial breaks) comes up to her and says, “Jesse’s dead, you aren’t going to find him out there.”, Emma replies “Yes, I will. He’s a long-distance swimmer.” What? He crashed in the Pacific and will swim back to this pier? Don’t even get me started on Sam’s commandeering of his high school band class on several occasions to go over his marital woes, using his teen students as his therapist. It’s supposed to be played for laughs, but it’s so wildly inappropriate that your jaw hangs open after a while, especially when students, teachers, and parents stop by and sit in on the conversation.
One True Loves needed a more serious tone and a less greeting card approach to its execution. It takes time to introduce many characters (like Emma’s deaf niece) and then does nothing special with them. Also, how can you have Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You!) in your film and not use him more? Soo has the right aura to play this part, and surprisingly, the usually ho-hum Lacey develops nicely during his scenes with her. It’s Liu who struggles with the material, which could be attributed to most of it being out loud rhetorical conversations with himself in front of his class (i.e., “Why would she want to be with him and not me?) Liu also contributes an incredibly sincere closing credit song, which is either a good or a bad thing…you can be the judge of that. With all of the rom-com or dram-com’s out there to choose from, unless you are a fan of the novel or stars, it easy to take a pass on.
ONE TRUE LOVES will be in theaters on April 7th and on digital April 14th.