One Day – Review (2)


British romance works because of concept

One Day is a particularly frothy romance about two young lads who are in love, they just don’t know it yet. Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) turn one drink-filled night into a twenty-year relationship. They would meet each other when graduating from Edinburgh on July 15, 1988. Emma and Dexter have crossed paths before, but this is the date that will become synonymous for their relationship.

Emma’s character has the look and feel of an ugly duckling – not unlike Hathaway’s turn in The Princess Diaries – who grows into a beautiful young woman. She wants to be a writer but struggles through her twenties trying to make a living. Dexter comes from humble means so he seems to gravitate to success with ease. But when he reaches his thirties he finds it harder to make it on his good looks and killer smile.

David Nicholls who wrote the original novel and its film adaptation has essentially constructed a story that gives us little perspective about these two friends except for what occurs on the fifteenth of July every year. And the further the movie progresses you get the sense that while Anne Hathaway may be the leading star in this romance this is Jim Sturgess’s story as a whole. It is more about Dexter’s growth and change over the course of twenty years. Emma does change, but Dexter has the far more interesting arc as his life spirals out of control thanks to sex, booze and drugs. Emma’s story is sort of lost in Dexter’s transformation. This is despite her importance to his growth.

For a film that is marketed as an “epic romance,” you sort of need a stronger arc for Emma’s character to see both sides of the story. So while Anne Hathaway’s performance is exemplarily for what it is, it could have been so much more engaging. What’s interesting is that One Day was directed by Lone Scherfig, whose last feature An Education featured a revelatory performance by newcomer Carey Mulligan. Hathaway deserved the same treatment.

So the movie relies heavily on Jim Sturgess. Some may remember him from Across the Universe from a few years ago, or maybe The Way Back, which was released earlier this year. His Dexter character has his own trials and tribulations over the course of twenty years, however it is only in his scenes with Anne Hathaway that Sturgess realizes his full potential as an actor. Honestly, Hathaway must have some sort of hypnotizing power in her acting arsenal that elevates the leading men cast opposite her. While she is still young as an actress she made Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Love & Other Drugs that much more enjoyable.

In scenes where Dexter is away from Emma is where the film is less engaging. Without Emma around, Dexter is emotionally detached. Even in scenes involving his cancer-stricken mother he seems aloof. His drug dependency doesn’t help matters. It isn’t until he grows up that the plucky young lad becomes the man he should have been with Emma twenty years prior. Jim Sturgess delivers an acceptable performance as Dexter, where he ranges from a guy who entertains millions on the tele to a guy whom you’d rather not want to be around.

The stilted performance by Strugess could be on account of how the story is constructed. By having the focus be a single day for a twenty-year stretch One Day is like episodic television, only here you don’t always get the set up and resolution. It’s a novel concept, because it frees us from showing the events of how their characters change. Why this sounds like a bad idea in theory, it works surprisingly well on screen. Career highs and lows happen off-screen if necessary. Even if we don’t see Dexter’s first marriage or the resulting action of his wife’s infidelity (likely to involve lots of yelling and screaming) we know it’s building to something greater.

In some regard One Day is reminiscent of films like The Lake House and Sliding Doors, two romances that worked to great effect due to their concepts and how they were crafted. At the onset we know that Emma and Dexter are destined to be together. When destiny is fulfilled what happens next may seem like a shock to the system, though every love story will have a similar fate if you stick with it long enough. All the same, Hollywood would rather us pretend that romances end in the middle with the happily ever after.

Director: Lone Scherfig
Notable Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
Writer(s): David Nicholls based off his novel “One Day”

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