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“One True Loves” is the latest adaptation made popular by Booktok, a TikTok subcommunity. From Where the Crawdads Sing to Heartstopper and Red, White, and Royal Blue, the social media app is proving itself to be a breeding ground for narratives ripe for picking.
However, the Queen of Booktok is author Taylor Jenkins Reid. Her latest adaptation, "One True Loves," is fresh off the series adaptation of her book Daisy Jones and the Six, and precedes an upcoming adaptation of her most viral novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
“One True Loves” is the tale of Emma (Phillipa Soo), a woman caught in romantic limbo. She’s in line to marry Sam (Simu Liu), her best friend since high school, only to have her world shaken when she discovers that her husband, Jesse (Luke Bracey), who has been presumed dead for the last four years after a helicopter crash, has been surviving on a deserted island and is returning home to her. Now facing the loves of her life and the inverse question of who she is with one and without another, she has to make a decision that will shape her future. Who is her one true love?
As Sam releases his nervous conscience to his students over a tear-stained slice of pizza, Emma and Jesse stand atop a lighthouse, swathed in hazy backlighting and pained, longing eye contact. “One True Loves” exists at the crossroads of soap opera and sitcom.
The film's Hallmark-ready cinematography garners no boost from its lackluster soundtrack, nor does "One True Loves" benefit from a cast of performers operating beneath their best. Tropes are a given in a rom-com and are sometimes welcome, but “One True Loves” executes them with the determined reliance of a ball and chain. From fade-to-black sex scenes and a “Twilight”-esque run of desperation through the woods, the film is shameless but unaware of its cringy execution. It's lazy, formulaic filmmaking rather than a comedic intent of genre parody.
The film is structured through vignettes that give you whiplash with every time jump from present to past and back again, while confusing its tone by cutting off a moment to jarringly switch to another character’s POV. It doesn’t sit long enough with any of its attempted emotional pulls to make them impactful. Both the script and the performances beg the audience to assume chemistry based on bullet-pointed outlines of history rather than any true emotive execution in either department.
“One True Loves” is so frustratingly superficial that it fails to gain a modicum of sincerity. Histories are built, but no emotions are developed to lay the foundation of empathy for Emma’s plight or Jesse and Sam’s lingering doom that they will become unchosen.
Every actor is hyper-aware of the film that they’re in. The bare-bones, melodramatic script doesn’t provide them much to work with, and it seems that they were directed to perform with overt facial expressions and to pivot at their own discretion between breathy, pained vocal tones and belly yells. If there’s a standout to be found, Simu Liu manages his poignant moments with a bit of finesse and elicits the film’s singular chuckle.
“One True Loves” strives to be a romantic comedy but fails to hit the mark. There is no chemistry between the characters because they're all so archetypal and forced in performance that they don’t breach the walls of their own bubbles. Emma receives pressure from both sides, faced with whether to look back or move on, and while the premise is objectively troubling, the film neglects to explore it meaningfully. Yes, those around us inevitably affect our life’s trajectory. They can enhance or impede our growth, and some relationships last only for a season or two. They might rebloom after spring, or they could die off forever with the winter. It’s a sentimental, worthy subject for a rom-com, but “One True Loves” cannot take the idea off the page.
Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms on April 14th.
Phillipa Soo as Emma Blair
Simu Liu as Sam
Luke Bracey as Jesse
Michaela Conlin as Marie
Tom Everett Scott as Michael