I know what you’re thinking: PW stopped going to the movies! It’s a fair assumption-the last time we got all critical on a cinematic literary adaptation was, cough, 2010. But we have been going to the movies…and we’re still as critical as ever. We’ve kept you waiting too long so, without further ado, your favorite book-review-editing-and-news-covering-and-sometime-movie-reviewing duo, Rachel Deahl and Mike Harvkey, give you the skinny on One Day:
Rachel says: I have a love-hate relationship with romantic comedies. Love-hate might not even be the right term—it’s more Jekyll and Hyde. I love a cloying love story as much as the next gal, and I’ll watch drivel in the name of a decent meet-cute, but the bar with romantic comedies has been set so low that most genre offerings these days feel like an affront to female actresses and female viewers. Romantic comedies entered a dark age somewhere in between the time John Cusack ruined teenage girls for all other men in the 1980s as Lloyd Dobbler and Julia Roberts convinced us that hookers really could be carefree and downright buoyant, in the early ‘90s. That Hollywood has issues with women being funny—see the myriad stories about all the producers in Tinseltown who said Bridesmaids would never make a dime because it was headlined by an all-female cast and, gasp, features chicks doing such dude-like things as being sexually aggressive and flat-out gross—is one problem. The other problem seems to be laziness: if audiences already know what’s going to happen (boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy regains girl) what’s the point of filling the gaps along the way with multi-dimensional characters or, you know, humor?
By the aforementioned standards, One Day, which some people might classify as a romance more than romantic comedy—I say it’s the latter—is a joy. It’s not terribly inventive, the plot device of following a friends-to-lovers couple over the same day for 20 years is particularly forced, but it works. The second feature from Random House Films (after the disappointing 2007 film Reservation Road), One Day, based on David Nicholls’s novel of the same name, shows a surprising amount of humor and depth.
British university classmates Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) have a brush with a potential one-night stand on a boozy night after graduation but, instead, start a decades-long friendship that is always skirting the line between friendship and something more. As their lives diverge but continue to cross—the bookish and self-deprecating Emma blossoms while the womanizing Dexter slips into an indulgent life of drugs and B-list celebrity-dom—the snapshots provide a glimpse into the evolving relationship as well as the changing characters.
Although the structure is contrived, it sets a welcome pace. The jumping-around also offers a bit of relief for some unexpectedly dark, though also pat, episodes involving Dexter’s downward spiral.
Nicholls wrote the screenplay and one of the strongest elements of One Day is that, even at its most expected turns (and there are a few), it maintains an air of legitimacy through above-average dialogue and nuanced characters. One Day also does a fine job of subtly capturing the ‘80s and ‘90s, through a British prism. Director Lone Sherfig, who skillfully evoked the London of the ‘60s in An Education, ably brings us through the years of mix tapes, combat boots and coke without losing sight of her focus: Dexter and Emma.
Mike Says: Being a guy, though not necessarily a dude (or, yet, a man, sadly), I don’t really have a love-hate bond with the rom-com. Basically I ignore the genre entirely until the wheat separates naturally from the chaff and one movie more than all others simply must be seen this fall, spring, etc.—or I go all selfless and suggest to my wife that we see that nice fluffy flick playing around the corner, a flick she may have mentioned in passing, a flick that she will not exit crying at the horrors of humanity, as typically happens when I make selfish cinematic choices, as films like Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, or The Killers are more my speed.
Thus, my take on One Day differs a bit from Rachel’s, though ultimately I agree: it works. Boy, does it work. It’s the Million Dollar Baby of Romantic Comedies; its efficacy simply won’t be denied. Resistance is futile. George Lucas once said, “Drama is easy. Grab a kitten, hold its head in a puddle,” or words to that effect. Love him, hate him, or both, he’s right, and it is this level of drama—and nuance—that One Day achieves. Which is fine. Not everything has to be subtle, deep, profound. The book wasn’t, and Lone Scherfig has captured its spirit in her medium. One Day is a Tragic Romance. A film told in a year at a time can’t capture subtlety; it’s simply not in its DNA. It exists to capture the big events, the major successes, the crushing defeats. Life! Catharsis means “to purge” and One Day is like an emotional Heimlich maneuver.
For me, it’s the details that make One Day break down (though it hardly matters). Why does Lone Scherfig continue to cast Americans to play Brits? In An Education, Peter Sarsgaard could actually speak the Queen’s English without looking like he’d just come from the dentist. He actually did a great job. The same can’t be said for Anne Hathaway, whose accent veers wildly and never seems to settle. And look, there’s Patricia Clarkson, doing it too, and achieving the same level of unease. Scherfig is Danish, not British, and like many outsiders, seems to lack the ear for the subtleties of the English accent. Finally, I simply don’t get Jim Sturgess. Why is he having such a great career? I’ve never seen him in anything where he didn’t appear to be acting. In The Way Back, Ed Harris swept the forest floor with him. He and Hathaway don’t really have much chemistry in One Day, which in any other film would be deadly; in One Day, which is more machine than film, we accept that the chemistry they obviously have is a foregone conclusion. Because it is.
Vintage has 265,000 copies the movie tie-in edition in print, and 400,000 copies of the non-tie-in edition.
Rachel Deahl is senior news editor at PW; Mike Harvkey is deputy reviews editor.