I was an enormous fan of Loan Scherfig’s 2009 picture An Education. It captured a spirit of charming optimism that is rarely seen in British films these days. Her big-screen adaptation of David Nicholl’s bestselling novel One Day does have a certain degree of charming optimism, but is sadly far from the masterpiece-standard reached with her previous film. Some have compared it to The Notebook, although One Day is far more socially astute and dramatically believable than that sentimental cry-fest.
Anne Hathaway plays a Yorkshire-born aspiring writer named Emma. Jim Sturges plays a posh, handsome young guy named Dexter. They are from different backgrounds, and have different ideas about what life has to offer them, but after they graduate from Edinburgh University they have a fumbling, drunken close encounter in Emma’s bedroom. But in the end they decide to become friends, and meet up or get in contact on the same day each year – July 15th. The film then follows them through their lives on this day, hovering over momentous, emotional and sometimes catastrophic moments in their relationships and chosen careers.
Emma starts off as a waitress in a seedy cafe, then ends up bedding an obnoxious wannabe stand-up comedian (a wonderful Rafe Spall). She stays with him, thought she’s not sure why. Dexter ends up presenting trash TV. When his mother (Patricia Clarkson) starts to die from cancer, he visits his family home with a crashing hangover, appalling his parents; there’s a heartbreaking moment when his mum tells him she worries he isn’t a very nice person any more.
Through all these experiences and troubles of the heart, we can’t help feeling Emma and Dexter are meant to be together. They both have their separate sex lives. Emma finds it hard to shake off her unfunny comedian, and Dexter gets involved with a humourless posh girl (Romola Garai); he even has a daughter with her. But this is a movie about destiny, and it isn’t giving too much away (the posters and trailer tell you as much) to say that their true destiny is only found by being together as a loving couple.
It’s a shame, thought, that it doesn’t all work. The style of the film doesn’t fit the structure: it’s too fluid, and seamlessly passes from one year to the next with only a date floating around on the side of the screen to show us time has passed. It’s enough to let us know where we are and what we are doing, but it doesn’t give the impression of rummaging through twenty years of memories. It feels too automatic and false.
There has been much Hathaway bashing from critics since the film’s release, but she really isn’t that bad. It is true that her Yorkshire accent sometimes wanders into standard English, but to be fair her character is supposed to have lived in London for years, so it strikes me only natural that her accent would develop across time.
Jim Sturges is utterly superb, and is the real star of the film. I’ve never been very impressed with him in the past. His casino movie with Kevin Spacey, 21, was dire, but here he manages to make the character of Dexter both obnoxious and immensely likeable. The ending (which I shall not reveal) irritated me, but its heart is in the right place.
I don’t think it’s the film fans of the novel were hoping for, and it isn’t as good as the last Nicholls adaptation, Starter for Ten, but there is a lot of good stuff to enjoy here. For those who want to laugh, cry and feel mildly uplifted about life and the power of love, then it should just about do the trick.
One Day (2011), directed by Loan Scherfig, is distributed by Universal Pictures UK, certificate 12A.