Based upon a novel by David Nicholls, who also writes the script, One Day
kicks off with Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) attracted opposites in bed together on the night of their college graduation from an English university. Emma, with Hathaway playing against type, is a nerdish feminist who finds herself nervous amidst the passion with the far more self-absorbed and narcissistic Dexter. When Emma turns on Tracy Chapman as her "get down" music, Dexter isn't much in the mood to get it up anymore.
"Maybe we can just be friends," Dexter responds.
For the next 108 minutes, director Lone Scherfig (An Education),
gives us a Cliff's Notes version of David Nicholls' 400+ page book. Despite the fact that Nicholls himself penned the script here, One Day
feels like a rushed and abbreviated version of its source material despite taking place over the same time period of 20 years and involving the same characters. While it goes without saying that a 400+ book has ample more room and time to flesh out characters than would a 108-minute film, one has to question either the material chosen for the film or how Scherfig manages to bring it to life, or in this case NOT bring it to life.
The story hinges on what amounts to a gimmick, as the story evolves around annual check-ins with Emma and Dexter on July 15th over the course of a 20-year period. The book fleshes out the scenarios far more completely, though the level of increased satisfaction is arguable. On the other hand, Scherfig is forced to reduce the number of years the film covers and, of course, does not have near enough room to add the light nuances and emotional depth that made the book matter to its target audience. Instead, One Day
feels intentionally manipulative and, more disturbingly, frequently quite shallow.
Anne Hathaway is uneven, overwrought and frequently butchers the British accent as Emma. It's hard not to admire Hathaway's consistent willingness to stretch herself as an actress and tackle true indie projects. It's not so much that the type of character here is beyond her grasp, but that she simply never convinces. Emma constantly feels like "Oh, this is Anne Hathaway doing a British accent...badly." She has moments that help to compensate, especially when she drops her histrionics and becomes more vulnerable. Given the abundance of quality British actresses, it's hard to not wonder why a Carey Mulligan or, for that matter, supporting player Romola Garai couldn't have been signed for the project.
Sturgess, who is British, is far more convincing as a cad than he is in the film's latter scenes as the inevitable and predictable character evolution happens. Patricia Clarkson also excels as Dexter's cancer afflicted mother, and her scenes with Sturgess are among the film's best. The film is semi-faithful to the book's ending, a resolution feels a touch timid here but still pretty solid reflects upon the film's European cinematic foundation rather than that of Hollywood.
It would difficult to call Nicholls' literary work anything but semi-pleasing literary candy, but at least the book had a genuine romanticism about it and, if you're into that type of literature, you most likely enjoyed the journey. On the other hand, One Day
feels so incredibly laborious over the course of 20 years that even if these star-crossed loves are meant to be it's ultimately hard to care much about them or their ultimate fates. Hathaway works the dialogue way too hard, while Sturgess can't quite bring anything resembling electricity to his encounters with Hathaway.
I've always been of the mind that if you have to work too hard for too long to make a relationship work that it might be time to reconsider. You might do yourself a favor and reconsider seeing One Day.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic