December 29, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Noah Gilbert
Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of France, the dramatic film “The Only One” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An American winemaker, who owns a vineyard in France, finds his world rocked when a British ex-girlfriend who dumped him six years earlier suddenly comes back into his life.
Culture Audience: “The Only One” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a tedious and predictable drama.
What would you do if an ex-love who abruptly left you unexpectedly showed up in your life again when you’re single and available? That’s the dilemma presented in the drawn-out and lackluster romantic drama “The Only One,” which makes it too easy to see how everything is going to end. In addition to the bland story, the movie fails to have interesting characters. In fact, the woman who’s supposed to be the movie’s charismatic heartbreaker is actually a selfish and flaky bore.
If you watch “The Only One,” it’ll be hard not to fall asleep or to resist the urge to fast-forward through the many dull scenes in the film. Some viewers might not even have the patience to finish watching the movie. This impatience would be understandable because it’s all too obvious what’s going to happen in this movie. The two main characters haven’t changed much or learned important life lessons after not seeing each other for six years.
“The Only One” (directed by Noah Gilbert and written by his brother Seth Gilbert) has the dubious claim of setting a romantic movie in France when the movie isn’t very romantic at all. Viewers with enough life experience can easily see that the mismatched, would-be couple at the center of the story is just a hollow prop for the “will they or won’t they get together” gimmick that’s the shaky foundation for this movie. In order for a movie like this to really connect with viewers, people have to care about the would-be couple in the first place.
It seems like “The Only One” filmmakers were going for a vibe that’s similar to director Richard Linklater’s 2004 romantic reunion drama “Before Sunset.” Linklater and “Before Sunset” co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie. “The Only One” is nowhere near as witty, charming and intriguing as “Before Sunset” but is actually just the opposite in almost every way.
“The Only One” begins with the arrival of a British woman in her early-to-mid-30s named Tom (played by Caitlin Stasey) at a mid-sized vineyard somewhere in France. The first thing she sees is a dead horse in a field on the property. It’s later revealed that the horse was named Gwen and belonged to the vineyard owner David (played by Jon Beavers), who is American and Tom’s ex-boyfriend. Tom has shown up at this vineyard unannounced and uninvited.
As she casually saunters into the vineyard house where David lives, Tom appears to be somewhat smug when she encounters David and he’s surprised to see her. “I hate to be a bummer,” Tom says to David, “but your horse is dead.” David tries to play it cool and answers, “I know.” There’s a tedious part of the movie where David finds a new horse to replace the dead one, which died of old age.
Over time, it’s very obvious that David (who is in his mid-30s) can’t hide that he’s still in love with Tom. Through conversations and flashbacks, it’s revealed that David and Tom met in Dublin six years earlier during a bonfire party. David fell hard and fast for Tom, who is a longtime drifter. The movie tries to make Tom look like a “free spirit,” but she’s really just a soul-sucking manipulator who refuses to make any real commitments or have any real responsibilities in life.
Tom and David began living together during their time in Dublin. One day, she told him that she was going out for some cigarettes. And she never went back or said goodbye. She also never made contact with David or an apology for this cold-hearted breakup until she tracked David down six years later by finding out on Instagram where he was living. Even though Tom could’ve contacted David on social media, she chose not to and decided to show up at the vineyard as a “surprise,” without really knowing how David would react to seeing her again.
In the six years since they last saw each other, David ended up living in France, where he found work at a vineyard owned by an elderly man, who became a mentor to David. When the vineyard owner died, he left the business to David in his will. David says that the old man was an “asshole” but he treated David well enough to trust him with the vineyard. David also tells Tom that the vineyard’s previous owner has two estranged daughters who definitely were not in consideration to inherit the vineyard. These daughters also seem to have no interest in the business because they’re never seen in the movie or mentioned again.
Tom gives David a brief update on what she’s been up to in the six years that since they last saw each other. She mentions that she worked for a time as a barista in Auckland, New Zealand. Tom also that she signed a home lease with “an Argentinian chick” she was dating, but Tom left this lover too. “I’ve been everywhere man,” Tom says to David, as people with empty, aimless lives do when they want to appear more glamorous than they really are.
David has a little bit of pretension about himself too. He likes to brag that his vineyard is completely organic and operates exactly how it did when it was built more than 200 years ago. That means the vineyard and everything else on the property doesn’t have electricity. David is proud of the fact that he has no modern technology, but it seems like a questionable way of doing business when this lack of technology will just make things harder and more expensive for him.
Eventually, it’s revealed that Tom’s real name is Natalie. She began calling herself Tom shortly after she met David, because she had been drinking Old Tom Gin when they met. Not much is told about Tom’s family background except that her father was in the military, which might explain why she’s accustomed to moving around a lot. It doesn’t explain why she’s such so self-centered and unreliable.
Tom/Natalie is the type of heartbreaker who gets by and gets away with a lot because of her good looks. Based on the little information that’s revealed about her, she has a pattern of using lovers for a place to live, and then she suddenly leaves them when she grows bored with them. Whatever she wants from David, it’s obviously for her own selfish reasons.
Not everyone is charmed by Tom. David’s brother-in-law Rob (played by Hugo Armstrong) intensely dislikes her not just because she owes Rob money but mostly because of how she broke David’s heart. Rob is married to David’s older sister Em (played by Blake Lindsley), and Rob is the social media manager for David’s vineyard. Em and Rob live with their two sons (one is 7, the other is 4) somewhere in Oregon, but it just so happens Rob and Em are in France to visit David at the same time that Tom shows up. The children are not with Rob and Em on this trip.
Needless to say, Rob isn’t happy to see Tom at all. In private, Rob sarcastically asks David, “Do you think it’s a coincidence that she showed up hours after Gwen [the horse] passing?” Rob is also very suspicious of what Tom wants from David. Understandably, Rob doesn’t want Tom to hurt David again.
Meanwhile, David seems to easily forgive Tom and is embarrassed when Rob mentions in front of Tom how deeply hurt David was when Tom left him. Out of pride, David downplays how devastated he was by the breakup. And even if he told Tom how much she hurt him, she doesn’t seem capable of fully understanding the type of emotional wreckage she leaves behind when she decideds to leave lovers on a whim.
At one point, David and Tom discuss why their relationship ended. This conversation just further proves how self-obsessed Tom is. He asks her, “Why did you bail on me in Dublin?” She replies, “I wanted to see Asia.” She adds, “I’m sorry … I really did go out for cigarettes.” And as if to justify the awful way that she treated David, she reminds him: “I told you I suck at dating.”
Much of “The Only One” is about the tensions that Tom stirs up with her unexpected visit. Tom, David, Rob and Em have a somewhat awkward lunch where Em tells Tom she admires and somewhat envies Tom for having the freedom to go wherever Tom wants to go. Rob can barely contain his disgust because he can see Tom for who she really is: a homeless drifter who’s come back in David’s life to see what she can get out of him.
And what exactly does Tom want from David? She tests his willingness to drop everything to hang out with her. There’s a long stretch of the movie where he ditches his vineyard responsibilities to go off and travel with her. They “borrow” Rob’s motorcycle without his permission when they go on this impulsive trip.
A major problem with “The Only One” is that Tom is very shallow and doesn’t have a captivating personality. Most people who’ve traveled and lived in several countries learn a lot about different cultures and have fascinating stories to tell. Not Tom. She mostly talks about herself and tries to get David to think that he’s become boring, now that he’s found a steady job that he likes.
Meanwhile, viewers won’t have much respect for David either, because he acts like a spineless, easily manipulated wimp when he’s with Tom. Do people act this way in real life when they’re madly in love with a narcissist? Of course. But if you’re going to make a movie about it, at least make the dialogue intriguing, not a monotonous slog. All the warning signs are there about what will happen if David decides he wants to rekindle his romance with Tom.
“The Only One” has a rambling quality to it where viewers will keep wondering where the story is going and what kind of statement this movie is trying to make. There’s a useless character named Madame Gerard (played by Niseema Theillaud), a lonely, elderly neighbor who has lunch with David every Tuesday. She adds nothing to the story, unless the filmmakers wanted to have a token French character in a movie set in France but most of the main characters are not French.
“The Only One” has some nice scenic shots of France. But that’s not enough to make a movie interesting. “The Only One” doesn’t have much to offer, in terms of memorable characters and an engaging story. The acting and direction are mediocre. And most of all, this very un-romantic movie that’s supposed to be romantic will just make viewers feel like they wasted their time watching a pointless and forgettable story.
Vertical Entertainment released “The Only One” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 10, 2021.