One Day tries to deviate from the typical whirlwind romance movie by bookending its love story with everything that happens before and after that big Hollywood kiss. Based on David Nicholls's novel, the film follows the lives of two students who agree to start a friendship after a botched one-night stand after college graduation, and visits them on the anniversary of that date (July 15) each year. As Dexter and Emma embark on adulthood, their lives and careers change and intersect, and the status of their platonic relationship is brought into question as they keep in touch.
It's an inspired concept, but it's impossible to pack 20 years' worth of events into two hours without cutting a few corners. Though Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway are well cast as our romantic leads, some of their magic is sacrificed to push through the evolution of their relationship.
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Aside from a muddled British accent, Hathaway still gives a decent performance as Emma, though her transformation from gawky, insecure student to self-assured woman is mostly evident in her style and hair evolution. Sturgess, on the other hand, carries a heavier burden due to Dexter's downward spiral and emotional coming-of-age. While Emma does little more than focus on her career as she waits for Dexter to grow up, Dexter goes through the process of hitting rock bottom and finding his way back. Sturgess proves he's up to the challenge, breaking through the spoiled-rich-kid facade on Dexter's surface and showing the fear and insecurities underneath.
What sets One Day apart from other films is its format, but ultimately, it's also what holds the movie back. With 20 different July 15ths to get through, the story too often feels rushed and undeveloped. While many of Emma and Dexter's defining personal moments are given their due — like an enlightening holiday they take together in their 20s and their reunion at a wedding of a mutual friend in their 30s — many of the pivotal moments in their friendship are mentioned but left to the imagination. In the novel, the reader is invited into Emma and Dex's respective psyches, can read personal letters, and is immersed in what each character is feeling at all times. The film doesn't afford that luxury, and it's an obstacle that prevents the big-screen adaptation from packing the same punch as the novel.
Though I wanted to get lost even deeper in Emma and Dexter's relationship, Sturgess and Hathaway still have enough chemistry to keep the film — and more importantly, the love story — afloat. Underneath a somewhat cheesy veneer of gimmicks (like the constant guessing game of where a new year will be introduced) is a love between two people that's both volatile and honest. The film is about more than just the trajectory of a relationship; it's about the loneliness of growing up and learning how you affect people along the way.
It's easy to root for Emma and Dex, but the same can't be said for falling in love with their story. One Day begins with hope but slowly fades as we approach the climax, and by the time you reach the romantic outgoing flourish, it's a little too late.
Photos courtesy of Focus Features