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Based on David Nicholls’ novel of the same title, Lone Scherfig’s One Day is about the lives of British college graduates Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess). Both share their graduation night, July 15, 1986, but their rendezvous becomes more than a casual fling. The two become close friends, and the story shows how their relationship progresses – and in some cases regresses – every year over the next two decades on July 15.
I wanted to fall in love with Scherfig’s One Day, just like I’d fallen head over heels of Nicholls’ rivetingly romantic novel. However, as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones crooned in a certain 1973 rock ballad, you can’t always get what you want.
Passive, shallow and completely lacking in the ways of emotional impulse, Nicholls produces a weak interpretation of his own novel. The movie is unconvincing and features unattractive supporting characters.
The biggest detractor in this emotionally wobbly disaster is Nicholls’ treatment of his own material, as the script zips through significant plot points and emotional depths of characters so quickly that there’s no time for the characters – or moviegoers, for that matter – to truly emote with them. The novel’s human drama has been replaced with overused tropes for various emotional states like depression and regret. It weakens the realism of the characters and proves to be an ultimately unemotional device.
Though it’s a disappointment, the film has merit in some areas. For instance, we get an occasional bought of laughter and despite the lack of emotional urgency, it is interesting to see how Emma and Dexter progress in their lives. Additionally, the actors are all in strong form. Anne Hathaway shines as the pessimistic Emma, hitting all of the right notes emotionally despite having almost nothing with which to work, and Jim Sturgess makes for an extremely enchanting and entertaining flirt as the consistently on-the-prowl Dexter.
Both performances touch on brilliance at various points throughout the film, but they’re kept from hitting that mark thanks to the limits imposed by the script. Supporting performances from Patricia Clarkson, Romola Garai and Rafe Spall also suffice, though they’re kept from making the devastating impact that they easily could have. Then again, great acting doesn’t always make for a great film.
An extra 30 minutes or so could have helped with some of the aforementioned problems, but to make a truly extraordinary, completely engaging film out of Nicholls’ evocative prose, you’d need a good three or four hours. On that note, one might wonder if it would have been more effective and powerful as a two-part television miniseries.
If you walk into One Day as someone who enjoyed novel or even just as someone who wants to see a meant-to-be romance heat up the silver screen, chances are that you’ll be disappointed. Then again, at least you won’t waste the whole day on it.
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Written by David Nicholls (novel and screenplay/adaptation)
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Romola Garai