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Nutshell: I didn’t particularly care for this film when I first saw it. I’m even more nonplussed now. Patchy, with sloppy edits and even sloppier screenwriting, One Day doesn’t deliver the connection it so desperately wants to. Pity. Grade: D
Emma and Dexter are graduating from college, circa 1988. She’s hellbent on making a difference in the world, and he’s up for anything the world has to offer. Glimpsing into the lives of these two opposites on Saint Swithin’s Day (July 15th) for the next 20 years, you get love, glory, despair, and happiness, not to mention sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. What you won’t get is a fulfilling experience.
Emma heads off to London, and immediately succeeds in being a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. Dex uses wads of the family cash to travel around, then settles in to a gig as a tv host/coke addict. As Emma tries to pull herself up, Dex seems determined to drag himself down. All the while they crash into each other at odd times, and we see them each year, sometimes together, sometimes far apart. There’s chemistry between the two actors, but not enough to believably sustain a twenty years bittersweet lovefest between two characters so obviously different. It felt as if they were together simply because the script told them to be.
The best thing about One Day is the thing they don’t clue you in on during the trailer; this is not a “Happily Ever After” story, but a real look at how two people live their lives, glimpsing their success and failures and how they make the best decisions they can make for themselves at the time they’re making ‘em. I’ll admit I was thinking this film was going to be just another “and then they realized they were in luuuuuurve” story, and I set my Brain Of Little Size to that end. But as the movie unspools, viewers are taken off the beaten romantic path an toward a different, more honest story. It’s a pity that One Day doesn’t do a better job of it.
The fault lies with the director, or perhaps the editor, in delivering such a choppy tale. Emma and Dex are shown in fleeting glimpses, and the movie’s pace has a hurry-up-come-along feel that doesn’t suite the material. If I’m going to be dragged down the street at top speed, at least give me a firm hand to hold on to. But alas, though Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada) and Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) give amazing performances, it’s hard to form a strong bond to these characters. And that’s so desperately needed in a film that whizzes through the same exact day for 20 years in under two hours. As the story moves like scenery from a train window, Emma and Dex aren’t coming together, they’re pinballing through each others lives, and their differences stare out at you as the scenes go whizzing by. It’s hard to see how these two maintained such a strong bond for so many years, because with the bits and pieces we’re shown it just seems like an embarrassing crush that’s gone on too long.
Director Lone Scherfig (An Education, Italian For Beginners) has done the romance thing before, and better. And I can understand a director getting his or her hands on the original novel and thinking that it would make a terrific film. In the 20 years Emma and Dex know each other, there’s friendship, love (for others and for each other), devastation and renewal. What director wouldn’t love to hit all those notes? Why Scherfig fizzles here I can’t imagine. But it’s a shame.
As the credits rolled, I didn’t feel put through the wringer, or a spent after catharsis. I didn’t even feel like I was on a rush of endorphins. I felt hollow, and a bit cheated. It wasn’t as if 20 years wasn’t enough, but that the minutes witnessed aren’t the ones that made their story worth telling.