The Good: Character development, Acting, Plot structure/development, Direction
The Bad: Pacing issues
The Basics: One Day follows two young people in London around the turn of the millennium as they grow apart and together in a (mostly) satisfying romantic drama.
One does not have to read too many of my reviews before it becomes very apparent that I am a fan of Anne Hathaway's films. I have found her to be a talented actress who has great range and she tends to pick projects that are smart and better than most. My wife, on the other hand, is not a fan and tends to object to my collection of Hathaway's films. But tonight, in probably the nicest show of love, my wife took me out to see One Day, which I was eager to see. And for the first time ever, we came away from the new Anne Hathaway movie with my wife enjoying it more than I did.
The truth is, I spent most of One Day wondering if I was even enjoying the film, but when we began to talk about the movie afterward, I began to enjoy it more and more. The truth is, the pacing is a little off and I was waiting for the movie to pop. It does, but it comes very late. It is worth noting that One Day is based upon a book I have not read, but bears some narrative resemblance to my novel Living In The Wakes (reviewed here!). So, this is a very true review of just the film One Day and offers no comparisons to the novel.
Emma is biking in London on Saint Swithen's Day (July 15, 2006) looking somewhat upset and then the film flashes back to July 15, 1988. There, Emma is graduating from college with Dexter and while their friends go hook up, the two of them go back to Emma's flat where they do not have sex and, instead, fall asleep together with Emma asking if they can spend the day together when they awaken. This begins a friendship that spans the decades until the viewer is reunited with Emma in 2006 and the movie progresses from that moment.
The story is told with glimpses into the lives of Emma and Dexter only on July 15th of each year. Dexter gets a career in television with a late-night talk show that panders to the lowest common denominator while Emma sublimates her dreams of becoming a writer to work at a local Mexican restaurant. Working with Ian, an aspiring comedian, Emma begins to squander her potential, which Dexter notices and encourages her to move on. Ironically, Dexter is drowning in booze and drugs at the time and when Emma confronts him, their friendship takes a hit.
One Day works, more often than it fails to, because the acting is wonderful, the characters are interesting (though not always sensible), and the direction is phenomenal. The plot has good progression with so much information being given in each scene after the date stamp comes up that the viewer feels the weight of the intervening year. Even so, the mood is often stifling and to say that Emma and Dexter have a turbulent relationship is something of an understatement. The middle feels longer at points and the pacing there is a little off.
What is never off is the direction. Director Lone Scherfig made an absolutely beautiful film in One Day. Scherfig has a great ability to capture the subtleties of facial movements and body language. The movie looks good and Scherfig actually manages one of the best special effects of the summer in a scene that comes near the film's climax. Moreover, the narrative structure that Scherfig allows makes the end of the film remarkably satisfying.
My problem with the characters is limited to only one aspect. Emma and Dexter are very distinctive and different and while the youthful passion Emma had for Dexter and the blandness of her relationship with Ian make it somewhat realistic that Emma would want Dexter for the whole long struggle of their relationship, when it comes to the specifics it doesn't work. Emma is smart and she recognizes that Dexter is on drugs when she is at her lowest point, but even then she does not quit him in a final way. While this is satisfying to the viewer, it makes little sense for the character and some (admittedly probably jaded) part of me found that lack of resolve unsatisfying. In my own life, I know there have been people I have thought the world of and when they got involved with drugs, after trying to help them, I exited their downward spirals permanently. Emma seemed that strong, but the film has a pretty classic dialectic to it that has worked since the 18th Century, so . . .
As for the acting, Rafe Spall, Patricia Clarkson and Ken Stott each give decent supporting performances that allow them to truly rule a key scene each. But most of the work comes down to Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Hathaway and Sturgess have decent on-screen chemistry - really committing to their kisses and having looser body language around one another. Hathaway only slips from her British accent once, which is impressive in its own right, especially considering how mousy she makes Emma at the film's outset and how tormented she appears in the movie's opening frames. Hathaway has yet another memorable role to wow audiences for years with as Emma.
Sturgess, whom I had only seen before in Across The Universe, successfully wowed me late in the film. Sturgess plays the carefree bad boy very well (his most memorable line, alas, was robbed for the trailer, which I managed not to see until a week before the film was released) but that is hardly a barometer for a young, good-looking actor like him. He truly ruled when his character had to be serious and earnest and he landed it.
The result is a romantic drama that is hardly satisfying, but is deeply real and captures the complexities of a lifelong love astonishingly well. Considering how hard that is to do in 108 minutes, One Day is a conceptual success. Every year, there is one weekend where I make a plea for readers to see a film that I know has no real chance at the weekly box office race. Considering that on its debut night (typically Friday being a date night in America) this date movie had eight people in the local theater, One Day is going to get buried at the box office. It doesn't deserve to. Smarter than Conan, family-friendly enough to take mature, intelligent children to (so you can forego Spy Kids 4) and more original than Fright Night, One Day deserves your attention this weekend; it will have you thinking well into next weekend.
For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Rachel Getting Married
The Devil Wears Prada
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
The Princess Diaries
For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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