One Day * ½
Directed by: Lone Scherfig.
Written by: David Nicholls based on his novel.
Starring: Anne Hathaway (Emma), Jim Sturgess (Dexter), Tom Mison (Callum), Jodie Whittaker (Tilly), Rafe Spall (Ian), Patricia Clarkson (Alison), Ken Stott (Steven), Heida Reed (Ingrid), Romola Garai (Sylvie).
There are things that work in literature that simply do not work when they are adapted into movies. I can think of no better example that One Day, which was a very good book and is now a very bad movie. The screenplay was written by David Nicholls, who also wrote the book, and actually follows the events of the book very closely. All that’s missing is the emotions in the film. I don’t even think I can blame stars Anne Hathaway or Jim Sturgess, who are good looking and at times charming in the movie. But the story of Em and Dex, that so moved me in the book, left me cold when I saw the movie. The biggest mistake the filmmakers made, I think, was thinking that the book would work as a move in the first place.
The movie, like the book, checks in with Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) every July 15th for approximately 20 years – from their drunken first meeting, when sex seems to be in the air, to their evolving friendship, to the breakdown of that friendship to the rebuild of something more. As a book, this worked, but as a movie it does not. The characters never really get a chance to breath – and there are times when it seems like 5 years have gone by in the span of 10 minutes. Perhaps a TV miniseries, with each year given a half hour, would have worked. It would allowed the characters the space and time they needed to chart this evolving relationship, and make the characters three dimensional. Instead, we get a dumbed down version of the book. The movie is essentially a Coles Notes version of the book.
We know from the beginning that Emma and Dexter belong together – but something keeps getting in the way. They first meet at a graduation party, so the possibility of a University romance is thwarted as they’re both about to leave. He’s from a rich family, so he’ll soon be gone travelling the world for a few years, before coming back, getting into TV, and falling into a cycle of partying, drinking and drugs. She’s from a poorer family, so takes a job as a waitress at a crappy restaurant, waiting for her writing career to take off, eventually becoming a teacher, before finding success. At every point, either one or the other, or sometimes both, are unavailable, so they remain friends – even though the connection they share is deeper than that.
The movie, quite simply, feels rushed. They have to jam 20 years into just over 100 minutes, so many years are given the shaft, and we never get to know them as individuals, let alone what their relationship is really like. And the movie – either in the writing or editing stage – jettisons much of what makes these characters well rounded, eliminating some of the less sympathetic things each does (Emma’s affair with her married boss, Dexter trying to make a booty call while watching his infant daughter for the night for example were both in the book, but ignored for the movie). As soon as the movie starts to settle down and get into a groove, we flash forward yet another year, and have to start all over again.
Would I have liked the movie had I not read the book? Perhaps a little more than I did, but probably not much. The movie is too scattershot to be truly involving, and there is a real possibility that without having read the book, and as such been able to fill in the blanks the movie leaves, that I would have found it even less satisfying.
Directed by Lone Scherfig, who did such a great job with An Education a few years ago, One Day seems to me to be miscalculated. The movie needed to find a way to take the books literary structure, and make it more cinematic, and they failed miserably. Even something as seemingly small as the way they reveal the date change in every scene annoyed me (way too “cutesy” and groan inducing). Many directors experience a “sophomore slump” after making a successful debut, and I hope that’s all this is for her. One Day, as a movie, simply does not work.