Ever since I saw One Day, I have been thinking about how I want to go about reviewing it. I walked into the theater expecting terrible things that would give me plenty of opportunity to snark. One Day delivered on both accounts but not in the overwhelming fashion I anticipated. This is because, like most people unless you are completely soulless, I occasionally enjoy a good cry or at the very least, a feeling of dampness forming at my eyes. Again, One Day
The movie follows Emma and Dexter over the course of their 20 year relationship, who we meet on the eve of their college graduation in 1988. Emma, who is played Anne Hathaway, she sports frizzy hair, bad clothes, glasses and an atrocious accent.. Emma dreams of being a writer. Dexter, played by Jim Sturgess, is a charming, middle-class, good-looking chap who knows all too well that he can do anything. It’s laughable how mismatched they are during their first encounter and first painfully awkward attempt at sex. It is after that failed canoodling attempt – on July 15 – that Emma and Dexter decide to just be good friends.
And good friends they become. One Day picks up their stories, whether Emma and Dexter are together or apart, on July 15 every year after that first meeting. It follows them through happiness and tragedy, though misadventures while skinny dipping, through bad relationships and failed careers, through drug addiction, through having children and eventually marriage.
The overwhelming problem with One Day is that all of this works wonderfully on paper but does not translate, at least here, into a fulfilling movie. One Day is adapted from the 2009 novel by David Nicholls – read it if you haven’t. Although Nicholls wrote the screenplay and Lone Scherfig, who helmed An Education, directed One Day, something is missing from the film. What is so nuanced in the book – the complexity of Emma and Dexter’s relationship and their underlying love for each other all along – is never felt.
In the book, the very cliché ending does not feel so cliché because you so want these two characters to be together for the long haul. Their relationship, although very complicated, feels perfect. But throughout the movie, you question why the proper, career-oriented Emma puts up with the childish, immature Dexter. Why does she wait for him?
And she waits. And waits. And waits.
Emma wastes years of her life in a relationship with someone she doesn’t love, this laughably awful comedian. And she wastes years of her life waiting for Dexter to stop being a self-involved jerk. As she morphs from this ugly duckling to elegant swan, obtains a graduate degree, and finally becomes a successful writer, Dexter is a wallowing divorcee.
By the Emma and Dexter finally, finally get together and then that surprise ending happens, you – the audience – feel as though you have been cheated by a movie that could have been a wonderfully tragic romance.