Modern marriages go bad in 'Gone Girl' and 'The One I Love'

Buried somewhere beneath the button-pushing gender politics and all-too-convenient plot twists in “Gone Girl,” there are some mildly interesting points being made about modern marriage. But after two and a half hours of soapy ridiculousness that wouldn’t be out of place on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” the movie just seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

The film’s title not only refers to the fact that Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) has literally gone missing at the beginning of this tonally uneven thriller but also that she checked out of her marriage years earlier. Her emotionally stunted husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), has done the same.

Flashbacks of their sexually charged courtship and early heyday are presented along with the present-day story, where Nick is under heavy suspicion for her murder. He’s also a philandering jerk who’s having a hard time feeling too bad about her disappearance.

Director David Fincher’s masterstroke was casting Affleck, who has his typical hollow look behind the eyes that fits the part perfectly. But when the circumstances change — and they do, wildly so — Affleck doesn’t have the range it takes to be convincing and drive home some of the story’s outrageous turns.

“Gone Girl” is based on the best-selling novel by former Kansas University student and Kansas City native Gillian Flynn, who also single-handedly adapted the screenplay. Her sexually frank and often mean-spirited outlook on modern relationships is fresh, but too often Amy (in flashbacks) and Nick spout dialogue and narration that seems more agenda-based than character-based.

Fincher (“Zodiac,” “Seven”) is reliably dark, infusing the first half of “Gone Girl” with the appropriate amount of dread and red-herring doubt. Once the film shifts gears into a scattershot serial-drama-cum-media satire, he’s less reliable, however, and loses control.

The final act drags and drags while it struggles to refocus, and the characters become disappointing clichés. Pike is buried under the weight of the script’s wannabe high-minded trash, and Affleck can’t commit to Nick’s unlikely turnaround.

Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also have a couple “look at me” menacing moments in the score, but their contribution, too, is hampered by wildly differing tones.

“Gone Girl” wants to be lots of different kinds of movies and ultimately fails at being very good at any of them. There are wiser films about marriages that fall apart and more savvy eviscerations of the snap-judgment media culture.

Once one of the main characters is shown to be a psychopath, it may make the preposterous reveal a little easier to swallow, but it cheapens any deeper discussion of the other issues. One day we’ll look back and chuckle at how seriously people took “Gone Girl” the same way we do now at “Fatal Attraction.”

Speaking of rocky marriages, the couple in "The One I Love," opening at Liberty Hall, moves from therapy sessions to a vacation retreat in the hopes of re-establishing trust in their relationship. When they first arrive, things couldn't be going any better.

The problems that Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) has with Ethan (Mark Duplass) seem to evaporate immediately, and they spend a sensual, romantic night together. But all is not what it seems in this sci-fi-inflected tale, and people don't turn into idealized versions of themselves overnight. A new divide opens between the two when Ethan decides he has to "figure out" what's going on.

Directed by Charlie McDowell, "The One I Love" is a modestly mounted indie film with some great performances and a novel premise. Duplass and Moss have great timing and they pull off some inventive gags with aplomb, selling some of the more heady concepts of Justin Lader's inventive script.

Moss has the trickier part, because Sophie's need to reconnect is almost blinding. Her husband is more practical about their unusual situation, while Sophie wears her wounded heart on her sleeve.

That "The One I Love" has an ending that's thematically similar (and almost as obtuse) as "Gone Girl" says something about the state of modern marriage today. Both films deal with the constant negotiation that it takes to pull off a long-term relationship, and both have similarly cynical attitudes when its all said and done.

It's ironic that the "One" that sports a sci-fi premise is the more believable of the two.


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