One Day is the type of movie that women are likely to enjoy far more than men. It has two likable stars, is less clumsy (in spots) than most romantic comedies, and wants desperately to be better on-screen than it is on the printed page. Sadly, the movie is nothing more, or less, than a romance novel put to screen.
At its best, One Day an intriguing idea with two charming leads, at its worst the movie is predictable and tawdry. The set-up is simple: We see two friends, who (shockingly!) should be more, over the course of a couple of decades, but only on a single day – the 15th of July. Sometimes they are together, sometimes they are apart, but it seems they are always thinking of one another.
Anne Hathaway is the smart girl (i.e. glasses, no makeup and bad hair – until she “miraculously” blooms into a beautiful young woman) who is too good for her rich, spoiled friend (Jim Sturgess) whom she truly loves. In the same way Emma fancies him, Dexter wants more from the relationship but isn’t ready to grow up enough to deserve her.
The film puts forth some effort to stay away from the romcom formula in favor of a more dramatic indie-film feel, but also delves right back into cliche it when it wants the big moment (like say a kiss over the canal in Paris) it never really deserves. One Day doesn’t hesitate to fall back on contrivance when better writing proves to be too difficult.
Although several of the days we see aren’t noteworthy, two are, without doubt, the most important days of these characters’ lives (which, to make the story work, just happens to take place on the same day years apart). It’s a good thing too, or there really wouldn’t be much to the movie at all.
We’re subject to all kinds of reasons which keep the characters apart, including Dexter’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) and her ill health, his drug abuse and philandering ways, her pathetic relationship of convenience, and the couple’s inability to ever admit their true feelings for each other. None of these are all that interesting or engaging, and offer little to the story except hurdles necessary for the pair to leap before they deserve to be together.
I’ll give credit to Hathaway and Sturgess for keeping me interested in these two characters when the script failed to do so. Had this film been cast with more traditional choices such as Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey it would probably been completely unwatchable. Hathaway and Sturgess are able to get far more mileage out of the quirky “predictable love troubles on the same day every year” gimmick than they should. Eventually, their charm wanes and you’re left with a tragic love story that is more than a little reminiscent of a less imaginative version of City of Angels.
Screenwriter David Nicholls (who adapted his own novel to the screen) fills the days between the cutesy moments with personal drama which is intended to balance the tone of the film. However, this drags out the love story (whose conclusion is never in doubt) through a series of unnecessary challenges, in perhaps a different direction, but in exactly the same manner as any run-of-the-mill romcom.
One Day is an interesting idea that might make for an okay novel, which in turn makes for a movie that, despite its best efforts, kinda sucks. It’s too bad that it wastes two enjoyable performances on a love story that isn’t worth a single hour, much less a single day over the course of a lifetime.