2 out of 4 stars
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Rafe Spall and Patricia Clarkson.
Every couple has anniversaries of special occasions in their time together. Their first date, first weekend away together, first time they teamed up to kill a bug under the kitchen sink.
But, as the pair in “One Day” shows us, there’s no greater signpost for a couple than the first time they didn’t sleep together. What’s the customary gift for that one?
The night of their university graduation in 1988 Great Britain, casual acquaintances Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew (Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess) nearly succumb to the celebratory fervor and change their friendship forever.
But, instead of trying for romance, the pair opts to keep their relationship platonic and stay in touch after college as they both begin to make their way in the world. While Emma’s and Dexter’s lives start taking different directions with varying degrees of success in work and love, one thing remains the same through all their triumphs and failures — their devotion to each other as friends.
Hathaway’s British accent may leave something to be desired, but what she lacks in linguistic skills, she makes up for in her ability to convincingly portray a young woman who is always forced to settle for less. Scholarly Emma’s initial infatuation with rascally Dexter starts her down a path where she keeps getting less than she deserves, whether it’s working at a tacky Mexican restaurant — in London, no less — or dating an unambitious, untalented comedian (Rafe Spall).
But, while her perseverance to better her life by embarking on a career as a teacher and writer eventually starts to pay off, Dexter’s immediate fame as a TV host takes a downturn as he finds out how hard it is to get people to take him seriously as he gets older. Sturgess is alright playing Dexter at his best, but better when his character is at his low points, disappointing his well-to-do parents (Ken Stott, Patricia Clarkson) and becoming a joke to his wife (Romola Garai).
But, year by year the truth becomes all the more apparent as Emma and Dexter come closer to becoming more than friends and bringing out the best in each other.
Studying the two of them over the course of more than 20 years, the story takes place every July 15, the uniquely English holiday St. Swithin’s Day. However, the date doesn’t commemorate much for our friends/lovers because every time we see them, they are in transit between bigger events in their lives like weddings, break-ups, the births of children and parental health problems.
Author David Nicholls provides his own screenplay adaptation of his novel, changing practically none of the details, allowing director Lone Scherfig to visualize his text. As in Scherfig’s rendering of “An Education,” love — especially love in Britain — is seen as something that can be overwhelmingly beautiful and flowery as an English garden but also as gloomy and miserable as a foggy night on the moors.
Despite some excellent atmosphere, Scherfig doesn’t move past the gimmick of recreating July 15 from 1988 to the present, and the process gets repetitive by the mid-1990s. What’s more, Hathaway is a tad too lovely to play plain-faced Emma, while Sturgess isn’t dashing enough to be a bounder like Dexter.
The two actors are more than adept to make up for this faulty casting, but like their characters, they can’t quite seem to make it work when it counts.
While “One Day” functioned finely as a book, the pages and pages of inner thoughts and exposition that made it such a rich read have no place on film. Even with Nicholls performing every author’s unwanted task of surgery by cutting the material down to only the bare bones, it’s far too drawn out.
But, nobody said love — or screenwriting — was easy.
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