August 19, 2011
By Marc Glassman
Lone Scherfig, director
David Nicholls, script based on his novel
Starring: Anne Hathaway (Emma), Jim Sturgess (Dexter), Patricia Clarkson (Alison, Dex’s mom), Romola Garai (Sylvie, Dex’s first wife), Rafe Spall (Ian)
Emma and Dexter almost fall in love on St. Swithun’s Day, July 15, 1988. The two are celebrating their graduation from Edinburgh with other friends when chance throws them together at the end of a drunken evening of revels. They almost start an affair that night and later in the day. But they don’t–and instead become the best of friends.
The film’s quirky narrative device is set: we follow them for the next two decades on successive St. Swithun’s Days. Dex, the handsome, somewhat superficial lad, sleeps with beautiful women and rises to almost immediate acclaim as a TV presenter. Em, the slightly gawky and awkward one, works in restaurants until she gradually finds herself as a writer. The two spar, have dinners with each other and remain–more or less–confidants and friends through good times and bad.
It’s obvious that Emma is in love with Dexter but she does allow herself a long affair with the inappropriate ‘non-comic’ Ian. Dexter marries Sylvie as his career hits a downturn; it gets worse when she dumps him for another, more successful, Edinburgh grad.
We know what happens next, don’t we? Aren’t Em and Dex meant for each other?
One Day does allow for one last twist of fate–after all, this isn’t just a romance, it’s a melodrama–but even that unique touch doesn’t seem all that surprising. No one will go to this film expecting the unexpected. One Day is about one thing: the chemistry between Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway as Dex and Em.
Does it work? The two are good but the fates haven’t smiled on this film. Just like the scenario, we are never completely persuaded that anything can–or should–happen romantically between the two. True, she gives him depth and he gives her sex, but the story and the characters in One Day suffer from a lack of soul.
Just as in his other film Starter for Ten, writer David Nicholls seems overly enamoured with lads and their lasses. And Nicholls’ lads are very much in the Tony Blair/Hugh Grant mold: good looking boyish men who promise much and deliver little. It makes the women–Hathaway here and Rebecca Hall in the earlier film–a bit suspect, too. Why would these lovely women waste their time with these men? Apart from the sex, of course.
Saddest of all is that the wonderful Lone Scherfig–of An Education and Italian For Beginners acclaim–has settled for this script. She’s a wonderful director and one can only hope that next time, she’ll find a story more worthy of her talents.
Please don’t misunderstand: One Day is OK; it’s just that it could have been so much more.