The first time I saw One Day (released in 2011), I absolutely hated it. Though I wasn’t impressed with either the acting or direction, my main problem was with the plot itself (particularly the ending, which I found most disappointing). A friend of mine recommended that I read the book afterwards, and since so often books are better than their film counterparts, I conceded. However, the book was just as disappointing, if not more so. Finally, I decided to revisit the film again, just to remind myself with how well the film measured up to the book. Seeing the movie again after reading the book made the film a bit better for me, but not by much.
One Day tells the story of the friendship between Londoners, Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) and Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway), beginning on July 15th, 1988, the night of their college graduation. Though they spend the night together, Emma and Dexter decide to maintain a friendship, rather than a romantic relationship, and keep in touch through the years, though they both end up going off on different paths. The movie shows snapshots of their lives every year on July 15th- beginning with Emma’s rather dismal existence working at a Mexican restaurant in the city (despite her aspirations to be a novelist), contrasted with Dexter’s exciting life travelling abroad (which mainly just consists of him sleeping with attractive women). Each year, Emma and Dexter’s lives are shown to be drastically different; while Emma is unhappily settling in with her not-so-funny comedian boyfriend, Ian (Rafe Spall), Dexter is climbing the fame ladder as a TV show host and developing a very bad cocaine problem. Though Emma and Dexter have little in common as the movie goes on, they still manage to maintain a relationship throughout, and the film explores twenty years of their lives together.
As I already mentioned, the main and most prevalent problem with the film is its actual premise. Director Lone Scherfig (An Education) tries her best to translate the story to film, but the idea doesn’t work very well. The snapshots of Dexter and Emma’s lives play out like two totally separate stories, and since the scenes of them together are very few, it just seems like a film about the lives of two characters whom are barely acquainted. Scherfig tries to fit twenty years worth of a story into 108 minutes by showing shots of a calendar flipping pages, or playing the hit song of that year, but it just doesn’t work: most of the movie flips by and it doesn’t really feel as though you’ve seen a full twenty years worth of either character’s life. I can’t put it any better than saying that the plot worked better in a book format than it does in the film.
That being said, David Nicholls’ (who wrote both the novel and screenplay) story just isn’t intriguing, overall. The characters aren’t all that interesting and neither is their “story”. I found some of the individual elements of their lives to be interesting (Dexter’s rise to fame and relationship with his mother was entertaining, as was Emma’s relationship with Ian), but the relationship between the two of them- all the way from their first night to the end of the film- was never engaging or even convincing. The main characters had absolutely no chemistry together.
The chemistry doesn’t appear on screen, either. I’ve been following Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21, Cloud Atlas) since seeing him in Across the Universe, and have always been impressed by his acting, so I was excited to see him in this movie. Despite Sturgess’ inherent charm, he still fails to impress as Dexter; at times he’s alluring, but most other times, he’s simply unremarkable. Still, he does much better than Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables, The Devil Wears Prada, Love and Other Drugs). The last time I was a fan of Hathaway was when she starred in The Princess Diaries twelve years ago- since then, I’ve found her acting to be subpar, at best. She’s like a dim light bulb in an already well-lit room: barely noticeable. Her character is written in a similarly humdrum way, so perhaps Hathaway isn’t completely to blame, though I’m still sure that Scherfig might’ve been able to find an actress that could’ve given the role a bit of a sparkle. At the very least, it would’ve been nice if an actual British actress had been cast in the role, as Hathaway’s (whom is from New York) British accent is absolutely atrocious- at times it sounds like she’s from London, and other times it sounds like she’s Scottish. I even heard an Irish brogue roll out a few times. It’s clear that Hathaway needed some more dialect lessons before taking on this role, and it really makes me wonder why Scherfig (whom initially passed on Hathaway’s audition) casted her at all.
The supporting cast is actually better than the lead actors. Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile, Far From Heaven, Shutter Island) plays a brief, but compelling role as Dexter’s terminally ill mother, whileKen Stott (The Vice) tugs on the heartstrings as Dexter’s stern, but loving, father. Rafe Spall (Hot Fuzz, Life of Pi, I Give it a Year) does what his two lead co-stars are unable to, and takes a character who is made to be wholly unlikeable actually rather endearing. Still, the best performances are limited to very minor supporting roles, with the majority of the screen time being used for the main characters.
I mentioned earlier that I found the ending to be particularly disappointing. I won’t give anything away, but I felt as though the movie rushed a very dramatic ending and didn’t provide any sort of resolution. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t expect all movies to have happy, feel-good endings, but if they don’t, I at least want some sort of resolution. The only good thing I can say is that the ending was better thought-out than in the book, and so, upon re-watching the film after reading the novel, I appreciated the ending a tiny bit more.
Because of the plethora of problems I had with One Day, I can’t really recommend it to anyone. The story isn’t romantic enough to be appeal to fans of the “chick-flick” genre (as a fan of said genre, I certainly can think of tons more romantic love stories than this one), nor is it engaging enough to even interest someone looking for a good drama. Lone Scherfig can’t be blamed for everything, as writer,David Nicholls is responsible for writing a lacklustre story to begin with. Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (despite making a worthy effort) add nothing to the film. It’s unfortunate that this movie is such a flop, but that’s just what it ends up being: a flop.