Film review: One Day
This is bad news for Anne, and for Edinburgh, which serves as the backdrop for new university graduates Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Hathaway). It’s 1988, and after partying through the night they tumble into bed, until she detonates the mood by putting on Tracy Chapman as a shagging soundtrack. He suggests they just become friends instead, and for the next 18 years, the film catches up with them every 15 July to update on their waxing and waning mutual attraction.
I have a question: what’s the attraction? Dex is a wealthy, dissolute narcissist. Em is a sensible scholarly geek with insecurity issues. Nevertheless on we plough through most of the landmarks of their lives. Dexter goes travelling, finds easy fame as a TV presenter, implodes with drink and drug excess, then marries a trophy wife (Romola Garai) and raises a daughter. Em wants to change the world with her poetry but settles for waitressing and living with a stand-up comic (Rafe Spall) she doesn’t like that much. This is the kind of film often dismissed as a woman’s picture, but it’s more like a grim warning for a female audience, suggesting that if you study hard and have frizzy hair, you will end up pining for someone as awful as Dex.
Director Lone Scherfig made better use of similar material when she directed Carey Mulligan in An Education. One Day is a screenplay by David Nicholls adapted from his novel, and it’s peculiar that in the transition from page to screen, he has proved deaf to his own strengths.
Thematically the book explores some of the sadder aspects of life: denial, missed opportunities, alcoholism, but somehow this has been boiled down into The Way We Were with northern English accents – although even that comparison weakens whenever Hathaway opens her mouth. Em is supposed to be from Yorkshire but it sounds as if Hathaway has been using Don Cheadle’s accent coach, and the dodgy inflections are especially distracting when the film gears up for her “I love you – but I don’t like you” speech. At times like this, you start to feel sorry for Jodie Whittaker, a British actress from the north who plays Hathaway’s best mate, and must have accepted her second-string role wondering if she had upset someone in the casting department.
On the film trundles, feeling less like One Day and more like The Longest Day, leaving no soapy cliché untouched. When a character is presented with a choice, you can depend on them to opt for the worst one, and when the film lurches towards a late heartbreak it feels arbitrary and glib, especially when compared with the real pathos of Dexter’s terminally ill mother, Patricia Clarkson, and Ken Stott as the grieving husband she leaves behind. v
On general release from Wednesday