One Day (July 15th, 1988, to be exact) a young, mousy college lass named Emma (Anne Hathaway) found herself escorted to her flat for some of the naughty stuff by a young, drunk lad named Dexter (Jim Sturgess). Nothing actually transpired, but, we are told, the spark of a relationship was present. Each year, on July 15th, we stop in on these two young people, who over the years retain their mousy, drunk titles while gaining insight about who they are, who they love, and who they will become. This is the central conceit in Lone Scherfig’s One Day, a well-crafted tale that doesn’t quite live up to its high aspirations. What went wrong? Read on to find out…(Spoilers follow).
To capture what One Day is, it might be useful to explain what it is not. This film is not a romantic comedy, it is not a cookie-cutter family drama, and it is not a feel-good love-conquers-all fluff piece. If you expected any of these things, you will not find them here. Superb acting, above-average (but cautious) cinematography, and lovely supporting characters elevate this film above many you are likely to see in theaters this year. However (and this is a big however), something is wrong in Denmark. The two leads (Em and Dex) are wholly unlikable. What is this, an Alexander Payne movie? Both Em and Dex are stuck in a sort of arrested development, knowing clear well what they need to do to make them happy and successful, yet completely incapable of taking said action. Emma is stuck for more time than she would like to admit trapped in a loveless relationship, and Dex is stuck for more time than he would like to admit trapped in a shallow, unfulfilling and morally bankrupt career. His life is women and alcohol, hers is boring dates and Mexican takeout. Yet somehow we are expected, nay required, to believe there is love here. For many of the 23 years the film spans, the two are wasting away, wishing they were with Mister or Missus Right. For each, it is the other, yet despite the film’s beginning we still have no sense that there are relationship materials holding up this house.
Each year, we find Dex with a drink (any and all, it seems), in the arms of some vapid vixen, wishing he were in the arms of some other vapid vixen. He regularly makes passes at Emma, but we grow to understand he makes passes at most everything with a bust and two legs, so this comes as no affirmation of his “true” feelings towards Emma. He constantly seeks her advice and affirmation about his career choices from her, but usually ends up holding his, um, drink. Her obvious inclinations about his personal and social life seem to have no effect on him, and he doesn’t seem to grow up even when his mother is stricken with cancer. What would usually signal a “right the ship” moment is lost on Dex, who never seems to grow up, even when he loses everything. Movies are about change, but how much do we, can we, empathize for a grown man incapable of self-analysis and maturity?
Emma, on the other hand, seems perfectly fine underachieving. She spends two years at a Mexican restaurant in England (which is tantamount to the graveyard shift at a drive-through Roy Rogers), growing ever cynical at what she has become and ever depressed at what she will be. Only late in the film does her creative nature break out when she becomes a published writer, but the contents of her work (which would flush out her character even more) are glossed over like many of the important details of this film. Its a shame that such talent should go to waste on such unlikeable characters, and it is this great fault that really sinks the picture. The supporting cast brings great presence to better-than-average supporting roles, and the cinematography effortlessly captures each moment of pain, agony, elation, and indifference, but having such a central problem overshadows many of the film’s great successes.
Scherfig’s crew certainly knows how to craft a scene and build a character drama, but the contempt that she and David Nicholls (author of the film’s based-upon novel) have for the male characters in the film truly hurt the picture. There is not a single quality male in the whole film, a concept I stumbled upon only after I left the theater. I will say, to its credit, that the film does feature a rarity in modern cinema, a functioning relationship between an adult male and his mother. The bond is weakened, however, when Dex fails to take his mother’s advice to heart, further destroying his own life and those of the people around him. Perhaps One Day is just a film about the perils and tragedies of youth, because it would certainly be a mistake to call either protagonist an adult. If, however, the leads were a bit more sympathetic, the film would have been a great success. Sadly, they are not, and sadly, this is One film you can skip this Year.
Overall Score: 6.60 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)