‘One True Loves’ Review: Simu Liu in a Generic Love Triangle

It was recently announced that ever-prolific online content factory Buzzfeed would begin using artificial intelligence technology to generate articles — so can A.I. screenwriting be far behind? Amid a surfeit of production company idents at the outset of “One True Loves,” the presence of Buzzfeed Studios’ logo brings that question to mind; the rigidly generic love story that ensues keeps it there. In fact, this adaptation of a 2016 bestseller by Taylor Jenkins Reid (“Daisy Jones & The Six”) was scripted by the author herself, in collaboration with her husband Alex. There’s scant evidence of personal investment, however, in this clean, anodyne drama of messy romantic conflicts, in which everyone from director Andy Fickman to stars Simu Liu, Phillipa Soo and Luke Bracey is working in strict get-the-job-done mode.

The bland proficiency on display throughout “One True Loves” is galling in a story that calls for ripe emotional excess, conceived as it is in the tradition of vintage, unfashionably heart-on-sleeve Hollywood melodrama. The premise is old and oft-recycled, though still fit for purpose: Years after her husband was lost at sea and declared dead, a young woman is on the brink of a fresh start with a new fiancé, when the missing man’s unexpected return throws her into a tailspin. The question of whether one can love two people at once has fueled many a greater screen romance than this one, though even the lesser ones can make us weep; it’s the strangely sterile, textureless finish of Fickman’s film that keeps any real feeling at bay.

“The future is so hard to predict,” muses Emma (Soo) in lofty voiceover near the outset, though audiences are likely to find it a bit easier. An introductory flashback to her teenage years in cozy small-town Massachusetts sets up her attraction to adventurous golden boy Jesse and her platonic friendship with plainly pining wallflower Sam. Played in adulthood by Bracey and Liu respectively, Jesse and Sam are presented as opposite masculine archetypes, but are markedly alike in dullness, with the Jenkins Reids’ script affording neither man much in the way of defining characteristics beyond their mutual attraction to Emma — herself a compatibly watery figure, with a tasteful forearm tattoo standing in for an edge.

From this point, the narrative skitters somewhat erratically between past and present, with flashbacks all too often merely illustrating what we’ve already been told or surmised for ourselves, stalling the pace of what should be a relatively untaxing 100 minutes. Desperate to escape New England and her parents’ expectations that she’ll run the family bookstore, Emma goes on to marry Jesse and move to Venice Beach — a home base for a life of restless globe-trotting as a freelance travel writer. When Jesse is supposedly killed in a helicopter crash over the Pacific, however, she’s persuaded by nurturing older sister Marie (ensemble MVP Michaela Conlin, doing her best to make self-help slogans sound like spontaneous human dialogue) to return home, where a combination of family counsel and Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” heals her grief.

Years later, she’s engaged to Sam, now a kindly high school orchestra conductor whose students serve as an aggravatingly cutesy sounding-board for his own suppressed feelings. (If ever a film were somehow short on stock best-friend characters, it’s this one.) A lifetime of drearily wholesome bliss awaits, until Jesse, after four years stranded on a desert island, reappears on the scene. Cue muted angsting on all sides, though the writing never really cuts to the brutal heart of Emma’s dilemma. Characters speak in painstakingly sensitive Hallmark homilies or via conveniently discovered confessional letters, but voices are never raised and blood is never drawn; futures are decided with simpering sad-sweet smiles, while Nathan Wang’s high-glucose score fills in any residual emotion.

The stars are neither at fault nor especially an asset to proceedings. “Hamilton” star Soo is a generally sympathetic presence, but perhaps an excessively temperate one: When Marie points out to Emma that her choice is less between the two men than it is between the different versions of herself that she is with each one, it’s hard to see much of a divide. Given a chance to establish his leading-man credentials outside the superhero sphere, Liu makes for an agreeable but unspecific everyman. He’s evenly matched with the rugged but clean-cut Bracey, though the disparity in celebrity between the two male leads rather tips the film’s ultimate hand. Not that most viewers will have much of a rooting interest either way; “One True Loves” serves up the kind of love triangle where we wish the best for all parties, or whatever will get things resolved soonest.