Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Tom Mison, Jodie Whittaker, Tim Key, Rafe Spall, Joséphine de La Baume, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Heida Reed, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes. Written by David Nicholls, based on his novel.
Fans of Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John) may be sated; there don’t seem to be many serious, adult romantic dramas hitting the big screen these days, but One Day is certainly one of them. Whether or not it’s a good one, however, is an entirely different matter.
Written by David Nicholls, adapting his own novel, One Day follows the lives of Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) over the course of twenty years starting with their graduation from college. Emma likes Dexter, and Dexter likes Emma, but fate and circumstances push them apart and pull them together over the years with seemingly equal regularity.
Here’s the gimmick (and it is a gimmick): One Day takes place over the course of, literally, one day each year. July 15th, to be exact, from 1988 until 2011. So what we see, if the script deems it important enough (some years are literally seconds long), only transpires on this one summer day every year. It’s not a particularly original narrative device – Same Time, Next Year pulled something similar off with more flair.
It is rather convenient, of course, that all the important stuff takes place on July 15th; this is the one day, every year, that Dexter and Emma struggle under the considerable weight of their love for each other. Births, deaths, weddings, and the rest of the dog-and-pony show may occur over the other 364 days, but every last bit of dialogue that needs to be said, every decision that needs to be made, occurs on this one special day.
The one day gimmick I can accept. My issue with the film lies with the characters. Emma, level-headed, middle-class, down-to-earth, and played by the immensely talented Anne Hathaway, should be an especially likable presence. Not quite: she’s cold, dull, and kept at arm’s length – we never really get inside her head or understand her decisions. Hathaway’s performance, in which the actress dons a fairly awful (almost Dick Van Dyke level) British accent, doesn’t help matters.
Worse, however, is Dexter, despite an admirable performance by Sturgess that would have probably worked wonderfully in another movie. Here, Dexter’s an asshole: a silver spoon, pandering, womanizing, alcoholic, drug-addled void of talent working as a VJ on an MTV-style music program. He’s a waste as a romantic lead – we really don’t want to see Emma with him for the majority of the film. In most romances, the guy can screw up once or twice and ask for forgiveness from the woman (and the audience). But Dexter is prick here for a good ten years, half the movie. That we’re ultimately asked to deeply care for this character is the ultimate insult.
Supporting roles, ironically, are much better defined. Patricia Clarkson and (especially) Ken Stott are effective as Dexter’s parents, Romola Garai is surprisingly rounded as one of his love interests, and Rafe Spall (son of Timothy) provides the film with its one truly sympathetic character, the sadsack would-be stand-up comic who Emma moves in with but doesn’t really love.
I just about despised the experience of watching One Day in the cinema, but it seems considerably better in retrospect: this is, ultimately, a touching film, made by talented people, a serious and competent romantic drama that is, really, a welcome change from the usual dreadful rom-com fare. I can’t forgive all its sins, but I’ll be willing to give it another chance some day.
Pet peeve: the staging of traffic accidents – still camera, wide shot, distracted character, sudden impact – has become obnoxiously overused. I think it began with Meet Joe Black, in which it was genuinely surprising and effective. By now, more obvious and telegraphed with each passing film, it has become a cheap and careless way of conveying what should be an important event.