Like Same Time, Next Year with less guilt or When Harry Met Sally … with a somewhat different ending, One Day pops in and out of the lives of characters played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess across two decades, spanning university graduation to older, wiser 40-dom. A huge hit in England and elsewhere, David Nicholls’ clever best-seller comes to the movies in an adaptation Nicholls himself wrote. Lone Scherfig, lately of An Education, directed. Strong pedigree for this sort of thing.
Yet the tone has shifted from page to screen. The pathos, which the book wore lightly, now comes at you in “Cry, damn it!” fashion. Many, I suspect, will comply. The film is far from cheap or slovenly, and it’s attractive. But when a movie inflates the importance of a love story that is predominantly comic in tone, even with a fair share of grief and loss built into the plot, that love story takes on more than it can handle.
In arrogant but sweet Dexter (played by Sturgess), novelist and screenwriter Nicholls has created the sort of male protagonist female readers and viewers want to protect from harm, and then take to bed. We meet the whip-smart wisecrack-dispenser Emma (Hathaway, hobbled by her own studious middle-class English dialect) when she’s celebrating Glasgow university graduation with Dexter, a boy-man of virtually unlimited funds and preening self-regard. In the book Nicholls describes Dexter as having “the knack of looking perpetually posed for a photograph.”
Their initial encounter takes place on July 15, St. Swithin’s Day, in 1988. They go their separate ways but never for long, always wondering if they’re meant to be more than pals, with those benefits every other movie this summer is pushing.
Emma putters through her life for a while, moving in with an aggravating stand-up comic played, aggravatingly, by Rafe Spall (son of Timothy). Why does she do this? So that there will be no question regarding whom Emma should be with. As she slouches toward a career as a teacher and then a writer, soulmate Dexter finds fame and agitating fortune (plus drugs, plus drink) as a TV personality, all the while earning the disdain of his parents. His mother, played by the reliably excellent Patricia Clarkson, suffers a health crisis. The film’s credo is summed up by the phrase: “Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ve had today.”
Emma and Dexter’s adventures on the road together, and at home, apart, pepper the screen like a series of attractive postcards. Hathaway works hard and she’s an astute actress, but her wide-eyed demeanor and on-the-nose delivery suggest she has a hard time throwing away a line of dialogue, even when it’s designed to be tossed off rather than hammered neatly in place. Sturgess captures the louche narcissism of Dexter well enough, though he lacks wit and an animating spark.
Forward it goes, through the years. What proved tasty in book form comes across a little more like work in the movie.
—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond:firstname.lastname@example.org