Entertainment Magazine

One Day

Posted on the 27 August 2011 by Cinefilles @cinefilles

One DayPhoto: myspace.com
Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess and Patricia Clarkson. 107 minutes. PG-13
It took me all of two days to finish David Nicholls’s novel One Day. I suppose I could have read it in a sitting if I was ambitious (and didn’t take frequent breaks to eat chocolates and weep), but the 2009 bestseller is the kind of read you want to savour: that rare romance that is as whipsmart as it is true. Indeed, Nicholls’s story about Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two people who spend a romantic evening together after their college graduation and the 20-year friendship that follows, presents two of the most realized characters you could ever hope for in a story.
Emma’s (Anne Hathaway) a bookish, silver-tongued girl from Northern England who’s the Working Class Hero at her Edinburgh university, and Dexter’s the devastatingly handsome, arrogant classmate she’s had a crush on throughout school. When the unlikely pair fall into bed together the evening after graduation, you can’t possibly imagine these two people have enough in common to become best friends over time. But when they do, it’s their differences that sustain one another as they weather the personal and professional crises of their twenties and thirties (and some unapologetic haircuts and fashion choices along the way). Sometimes alone, sometimes together, Em and Dex are never too far from one another’s thoughts.
Just as Nicholls did for his previous book Starter for 10, which was adapted to the screen in a 2006 film starring James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall, the British author also took on screenwriting duties for One Day, which – like the book – finds the couple on the same day (July 15) each year for 20 years after graduation night. But unlike the charming Starter, One Day has found itself in that tricky area between watery-yet-passable British romance and total, blubbering train wreck.
You can’t really blame Anne Hathaway or Jim Sturgess (who play Em and Dex). The American Hathaway dons a suprisingly impressive Northern England accent and clearly taps into those Princess Diaries reserves to bring the acerbic, cynical Emma to life. Meanwhile, Sturgess perfectly depicts that unique brand of vulnerability and bravado that makes Dexter so loveable despite numerous shortcomings. Together, Hathaway and Sturgess shine. But even two talented actors can’t salvage One Day.
The problem with the filmic adaption is exactly that which, tracing convention, would normally have been its strong suit, particularly among fans of the novel: an unflinching loyalty to its literary counterpart. Unfortunately, it’s this strict adherence to the book that makes One Day a film whose title serves as a handy timestamp of how long it remains in memory.
It comes down to this: 20 years is an awfully long time. And while in novel form, it works, on film, it’s a blur. In his book, Nicholls takes on a year per chapter and expertly relays the often hilarious, sometimes sobering details of the events that have passed in Em and Dex’s lives. There’s plenty of time to flesh out these characters, and even readers are given time to fall in love. But the film has the unfortunate problem of compounding 20 years into two years, and the result is Scherfig’s dizzying tour of the characters’ relationship. An entire year, brimming with all sorts of changes between Em and Dex (contact lenses, no more Ray Bans, a mother’s death, an affair, etc.) is reduced to two minutes that hammer out a quick-n-dirty rendition of the most superficial shifts in their lives. This may sound treacherous to bibliophiles, but One Day would have been smart to skim over a few years. (After all, even Dexter would have wanted to forget all about that Cure-inspired haircut and drunken voicemail to Emma.)
Granted, cinema is always at the disadvantage of its literary companions, but if you stop to think that Scherfig’s last film, the critically lauded An Education (2009) was based on Lynn Barber’s memoir, which the director adapted so eloquently, it’s not outrageous that one would have expected the same treatment of One Day, particularly with Nicholls on board.
What ultimately redeems the film is the chemistry between Hathaway and Sturgess. Though the couple doesn’t get nearly enough time together on-screen, the moments they do share – a holiday in France, a rooftop confession – are as tender and genuine as they come. They’re two people you really root for, and the snatches of banter and longing between them provide momentary distractions from the breakneck speed of the film.
Fans of the book would do well to stay away from One Day. Hathaway and Sturgess are spot on as Em and Dex, but all the details that make their story worthwhile are diluted in Scherfig’s bare-bones feature. As for those who fell in love with the trailer but haven’t ventured into the theatre just yet, do yourselves a favour and pick up Nicholls’ book instead. I promise it'll take longer than one day to forget. B-
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