ONE DAY Review
Imagine a bar of bittersweet chocolate, sliced up into irregular portions and handed to you on no set schedule in the dark by a lovely stranger, and you come close to the experience of watching One Day. The film, directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education), is a romantic drama, laced with sitcom witticisms and bolstered by ruminative performances by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, that stretches across the years from the moment a young couple meets upon graduation from university, and ever onward into their 30s and 40s. The individual pieces are fine for what they are, but they melt in your hand before they can coalesce into anything meaningful or worthwhile.
Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) are filled with hope and potential on July 15, 1988. Emma wants to be a poet, or a writer of some kind, and Dexter is headed to India "to find himself." Flush with the momentousness of the occasion and loosened by alcohol, they stumble to bed with the intention of consummating their new friendship, but their timing is off and things between them remain chaste. They resolve to be friends, and the date of their meeting is then used as a device to check in on their friendship annually.
It's a framing device, of course, and it's as arbitrary as it is artificial. In some years, there is no more than the briefest of look-ins on July 15, while others -- call them the momentous years -- are allowed significant breathing room to show the changes in Emma and Dexter, their career ups and downs, and the ebb and flow of their intimate relationships with significant others.
Though there are important events that occur coincidentally on July 15, just as many (or more) take place on other dates during the calendar year. Each time One Day shifts forward another calendar year, then, we are catching up with where Emma and Dexter are in their lives. Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they still close to each other, or have they drifted apart? What about their romantic entanglements, if any?
The bittersweet taste arises because, first of all, the film begins on July 15, 2006. We see Emma riding her bicycle through a city street, looking a little blue, and we can only gather that it must be a day that will define her life in some manner (probably in a negative fashion). That foreshadowing then hangs heavy as time is rewound 18 years, and the clouds of anticipation remain overhead throughout the friendly, sexy flirtations between Emma and Dexter, as they exchange snappy banter -- Emma is a little quicker on the draw -- and soulful looks. As the nature of Emma and Dexter's friendship morphs from flirtatious joking to a deeper, tighter connection, and as they later enter into longer-term romances with others, the sunshine never breaks through.
We can't forget that 2006 will be a major turning point for Emma and Dexter, which lends the story, already steeped in nostalgia for days gone by, an additional layer of misty-colored memories (to borrow a phrase from "The Way We Were") with which to contend. Combined with the fragmentary, episodic structure, One Day doesn't accumulate any power; it's pretty, like that stranger in the dark, but you keep wishing she'd just give you half the candy bar and be done with it.
On the positive side, One Day, adapted by David Nicholls from his own novel, studiously avoids telling its story in a stereotypical or forced manner, allowing the viewer to piece together clues and decide how to respond. It's a mature romance, one in which two people tumble into bed together, and then become lifelong friends by staying out of bed, establishing a friendship that lasts much longer than 24 hours.
One Day is a very sweet story, but it melts in your hand, and not in your mouth. It leaves a sticky residue that you can't wait to wash off.
One Day, which also features Rafe Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Tom Mison, Jodie Whittaker, and Romola Garai, opened yesterday in Iceland, today in Russia, and opens tomorrow in Canada and the U.S., with more territories in Europe and Asia to follow in the coming weeks. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.
Photos by: Giles Keyte. © 2011 Focus Features LLC and Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.