September 01, 2011

One Day

 Aren't I so Avant-garde?
Grade: C –
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess and Patricia Clarkson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Beginning in 1988, One Day is actually 20 years worth of July 15ths distilled down to a series of schmaltzy, snappy Saint Swithun’s days. Screenwriter David Nicholls wisely eschews including all 23 chapters of his best-selling novel in the film. However, rather than snapshots of a relationship’s evolution, this Same Time Next Year simulacrum drops in periodically on the interwoven lives of middle-class bookworm Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and posh Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess), beginning with their graduation from the University of Edinburgh. In the aftermath of an aborted booty call that day, however, begins an ebb and flow friendship that will eventually and inexorably develop into something more.

Unfortunately, books do not always convert effectively to film, and One Day is a story that never lifts off the page. Indeed, Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) displays more creativity in the graphics she uses to denote the passage of time than crafting logical, full-realized characters.

Having bought into the serendipity of a storyline in which key moments involving first encounters, breakups, betrayals, reunions and even death all happen fall on one particular calendar date, it is actually stunning that the seminal moment in Emma and Dexter’s relationship – when they finally succumb and have sex – happens midyear and off camera, a fact revealed to the audience during a casual conversation between them in which they express regret over the incident.

Such is the fractured structure of the plot. It’s not inconceivable that Emma would go from college graduate to waitress in a Tex-Mex restaurant to teacher to author, or that Dexter would transition from a graduate school instructor to an inept TV music video host. But, without the context of intervening events, their career and life paths prove jarring and meandering.

However, the most flawed part of One Day is that the main characters lack any palpable chemistry together and are individually unlikable. We don’t care much for Dexter because he is a self-absorbed, drunken jerk ostracized even by his mother (Patricia Clarkson) and father (Ken Stott).

And, we don’t like Emma because she can’t conjure the self-esteem to quit Dexter – one dinner-date during which she swears him off for good is followed immediately by a new year in which they’re chatting amiably again. It doesn’t help that Emma’s poor choice in men also extends to moving in with a part-time comedian, full-time putz named Ian (Rafe Spall). Perhaps Emma’s French boyfriend was a great guy, but we’ll never know because she unceremoniously leaves him sitting at a Parisian cafĂ© to suddenly chase after and pledge her undying love to Dexter after he starts to cut short a trip to visit her.

Hathaway uses the same ropey British accent she deployed in Becoming Jane as her weak approximation of a Yorkshire brogue. But, it’s Nicholls’ attempt to convert his literary conceit to the silver screen that gets truly lost in translation.

Neil Morris

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