Review: Wanna-Be Lifetime Movie One True Loves Is Heartless, Cynical and Just Plain Icky Instead

Ever wonder what happens to a film that breaks out of Lifetime/Hallmark Channel jail? Me neither, but apparently one such film is One True Loves, from director Andy Fickman (Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Race to Witch Mountain, Playing with Fire) and co-writers Taylor Jenkins Reid and Alex Jenkins Reid (adapting Taylor’s novel). With a plot that even Nicholas Sparks would think was too unbelievable, the film centers on Emma (Hamilton’s Phillipa Soo), who was fortunate enough to meet her perfect guy, Jesse, at their New England high school, leaving her best guy friend, Sam, pining for her from afar because he’s too much of a wuss to tell her how he feels.

Jump ahead a few years later, and now Emma and Jesse (Luke Bracey, the Point Break remake) are newly married, living in California, and very happy. He’s something of an adventurer, and he doesn’t hesitate to head off to a remote area of Alaska to photograph the terrain, even though it means missing their one-year anniversary. But on his trip, Jesse’s helicopter crashes and he disappears, presumably forever. Obviously, Emma is devastated, but rather than linger in her grief, the film jumps ahead four years, and lo and behold, she’s about to marry Sam (Simu Liu, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings), who turns out to be just about the most perfect and understanding guy imaginable. What could go wrong?

Granted, some of the time jumps are filled in with flashbacks during the course of the movie. For instance, we find out that Emma moved back in with her parents in New England after the crash and has since taken over running their quaint and very small book store. Sam never left their hometown, and is teaching band at their old high school. Naturally, because everything is perfect, just before the wedding, Emma gets a call informing her that Jesse is still alive and has been living on a deserted island this whole time, which brings up way more questions than it answers (How far off the coast of Alaska was he? Are deserted islands even a thing any more in this time of satellites and Google Earth?). And it’s extra awkward because Jesse has already been declared dead.

To her credit, Emma tells Sam about it immediately, and they even have the most PG-rated sex imaginable, either because he’s feeling insecure now or because she’s wildly turned on at the thought of her hunky dead husband’s return to life. Either way, it feels weird in a film filled with weirdness. She decides to spend time with Jesse, who just assumes they’ll be getting back together, in a cabin in the woods owned by his rich parents, so that she can figure out what her next move is. Meanwhile, poor Sam continues with his teaching life, understandably worried that his relationship is about to implode. He turns his classroom time into therapy sessions, with his students and fellow teachers consoling him after this turn of events.

There are parts of One True Loves I just found icky. The fantasy element of Emma having to choose between two admittedly hot guys is the least of its problems. For the most part, the film isn’t played for laughs, but a lot of the scenes with Sam are meant to be humorous, even though a high school teacher pouring out his heart to his students seems kind of wrong, which he acknowledges but doesn’t stop doing. More awful still is that as soon as they get to the cabin, Emma and Jesse immediately sleep together, without any discussion of what this means to either of them or to Sam, like it’s just expected. This isn’t some moral judgement about movies that feature cheating, but most of those films at least offer up an opinion on the subject. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any doubt which man Emma will end up with since Jesse immediately starts talking about moving back to California and going on numerous trips together, when it’s clear Emma is happy back home, surrounded by family and loved ones. Even the drama of her decision is undercut before it ever has a chance to take root.

One True Loves fails as a love story, a comedy and a drama, and it feels like a work made by committee that had its heart and soul leached out of it before they even shot a frame of film (the fact that there are 48 people with some sort of producing credit—yes, I counted—for this movie tells me all I need to know). Beyond that, it’s difficult to feel any sort of compassion for someone with an embarrassment of riches, in terms of her choices. Get the hell out of here with that nonsense and this movie while you’re at it.

The more I write about it, the angrier I get at the way this film plays out, and how instantly forgiving everyone is about the most heartbreaking decisions. If this is the type of romance we have to settle for in the 2020s, count me out. It’s cynical, disingenuous, and heartless, despite all the hand-wringing and crying. And it’s too bad, too, because most of the cast is better than this in terms of their appeal and acting abilities. Feel free to break up with the idea of seeing this one.

The film is now in theaters, and will be available digitally on April 14.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.