Or perhaps you were a fan of “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” (You’re on your own there, though I’m grateful that it briefly revived interest in W. H. Auden’s poetry.) “One Day” traffics in the same breezy, inviting Anglo-ness, finding charm in London’s gray weather and gentle comedy in the residue of the class system. It also has three weddings and two funerals, though most of the rites take place off screen.
As does nearly everything in Emma and Dex’s lives. Now and then — early and late — something momentous happens on July 15, but for the most part it is an ordinary day, and we glimpse only a piece of it, the year signaled by numerals on the screen. Some years are skipped over altogether, and others are indicated by a few seconds of actions: an unanswered phone call; a dive into a swimming pool. When we do linger with Emma and Dex, separately or together, some discreet exposition catches us up on what we need to know.
It starts in a rush of youthful sexual ardor, as the two of them, thrown together after a night out with friends, tumble back to Emma’s room as dawn approaches. Though they will remember this not-quite tryst as a “near miss,” it cements an affection that waxes and wanes over the years. Will they at last become lovers or allow their connection to lapse, awaiting the invention of Facebook?
This simple question generates quite a bit of curiosity and suspense, but “One Day” is at its best — observant, relaxed, touching and charming — when the central couple are apart. As they make their way through professional ups and downs and serious relationships with other people, the movie opens up and allows its attention to wander into odd corners and byways, encountering vivid, fully dimensional minor characters along the way. Among these are Ken Stott and Patricia Clarkson as Dex’s parents, and Rafe Spall and Romola Garai as the poor souls who would appear, on paper, to be perfect matches for Emma and Dex.
When those two are together, much is made of their contrasting temperaments and backgrounds. She is bookish, serious and comes from a (never seen) family of modest means, while he is dashing, irresponsible and wealthy. Mr. Sturgess does what he can to make you stop thinking about Hugh Grant, while Ms. Hathaway once again demonstrates her ability to be more appealing than her attractive co-star and more fascinating than her picturesque surroundings. (See also “Love and Other Drugs” and the most recent Oscar broadcast.)
Ms. Scherfig, a veteran of the Danish Dogme 95 movement, whose previous English-language films are “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” and “An Education,” can be a wonderfully centrifugal director, wandering away from the center of a conventional narrative toward its scruffy margins, where the interesting stuff happens. Her eccentric eye and offbeat rhythm sustain “One Day” through its stretches of banality and mitigate some of its flaws. Among these are a superficial sense of history — remember how girls used to wear their hair? remember nuclear disarmament? — and, more seriously, a late, disastrous dive into the deep end of weepitude.
In deference to the spoiler-sensitive, I’ll tread lightly here, but what happens near the end of “One Day” is likely to have a decisive effect on your opinion of the movie. Perhaps you will have seen this climax coming all along, and maybe you will find it splendidly moving. On the other hand, you might cringe to see the film’s wit and delicacy ruined by maudlin excess and wish you could remix the tape to get rid of that song you always hated.
“One Day” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). A bit of sex, and much discussion of and desire for same.
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Directed by Lone Scherfig; written by David Nicholls, based on his novel; director of photography, Benoit Delhomme; edited by Barney Pilling; music by Rachel Portman; production design by Mark Tildesley; costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux; produced by Nina Jacobson; released by Focus Features.
WITH: Anne Hathaway (Emma), Jim Sturgess (Dexter), Patricia Clarkson (Alison), Ken Stott (Steven), Romola Garai (Sylvie) and Rafe Spall (Ian).
WritersDavid Nicholls, David Nicholls (Book)
StarsAnne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
Running Time1h 47m
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Last updated: Nov 2, 2017
A movie review on Friday about “One Day,” from the Danish director Lone Scherfig, misidentified the language spoken in “Italian for Beginners,” one of her earlier films. It was Danish, not English.
With some people, we are destined to become lifelong friends. It can’t be planned that way. Chance plays a role. There is an underlying harmony that persists despite the whims of fate. When childhood sweethearts marry after not seeing each other for 30 or 40 years, it makes perfect sense to me. The instinctive understanding is there.
"One Day" is a film based on the David Nicholls best-seller about a boy and girl who graduate from the University of Edinburgh on July 15, 1988, and spend the night together. The story follows them by dropping in on July 15th of their lives for year after year, which is a useful device, because it eliminates the need to show us the events of the other days of their years. Success, failure, marriages, divorce, can take place off-screen if necessary. What matters is their accumulating effects.
Dexter (Jim Sturgess) is a twit. In the 1970s, he might have been known as a Hooray Henry. Emma (Anne Hathaway) is an earnest, hard-working girl. Dexter is upper-class. Emma is middle-class. Dexter goes into television production. Emma gets a job as a waitress in a Tex-Mex restaurant in London I believe I have actually dined at. It wasn't bad. Dexter becomes famous quickly and fades inexorably because there is really nothing there. Emma becomes obscure quickly and only gradually becomes successful because she persists in believing in herself and her gift for writing.
Life has its way of bringing them together for periodic updates. Some of these meetings are intentional, some accidental. The thread is never broken, not even after Dexter marries, and Emma takes up with Ian (Rafe Spall, son of Timothy). Since Emma and Dexter are both beautiful people, there is no imbalance there. It is all in character. Emma has it.
The film depends on a reliable fictional element, the redeeming power of the love of a good woman. Dexter is a superficial fool who descends through ever-lowering levels of humiliation on TV, cable and the Internet, until he has been reduced to a punchline. Emma stays her course. Her persistence and success are like a rebuke to Dexter. But it is important for us, and Emma, to realize that he is fundamentally a good person at heart — potentially.
The movie tells their story in a palatable rom-com manner, much enriched by its locations in Edinburgh, London, Paris and elsewhere. Such characters never live in forlorn places. The film is carefully crafted to make even its sad moments seem not all that bad, and it modulates its progress toward happiness without unseemly haste. But it unfolds as it must: A film cannot begin with two such attractive people and follow them for years into unhappiness and misery. Every single joyous love story ends in death if you follow it long enough. The movies make life easier for us by usually stopping in the middle.
In a season of movies dumb and dumber, "One Day" has style, freshness, and witty bantering dialogue. Anne Hathaway is so attractive that she would be advised to sometimes play against type (the eyeglasses she wears at the beginning are a bit over the top). Jim Sturgess contributes the film's most versatile performance, one that depends on exact timing and control of the balance between pathos and buffoonery. It's a decent night at the movies, if however a letdown after "An Education," the previous film by Lone Scherfig.
Why July 15? That's St. Swithin's Day, although Dexter and Emma eventually find it has a more direct relevance.