Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“An Education”)
Written by: David Nicholls (“When Did You Last See Your Father?”)
There are moments in every person’s life that set change in motion and help shape his or her personality and view on the world. These moments are often blindsiding, unpredictable, and happen when least expected. In the case of “One Day,” all of these events occur on the same date throughout a span of two decades. Implausibility aside, “One Day” is a lumbering mess of a film that forces us to spend 20 years with characters we wouldn’t waste 20 minutes on.
Adapting his own book, author and screenwriter David Nicholls tells the story of a score-long friendship through the events of July 15th, or St. Swithin’s Day. After a botched sexual encounter, the awkward Emma (Anne Hathaway) and the confident Dexter (Jim Sturgess) vow to stay close friends. As Emma works odd jobs and settles with a painfully unfunny comedian named Ian (Rafe Spall), Dexter becomes the host of several awful TV shows and is universally disliked by audiences and eventually by Emma herself. Over time, their roles and fortunes slowly start to reverse and Dexter and Emma find themselves questioning if a relationship is the right thing to do, or if they are just meant to be friends.
Both of the lead characters in “One Day” are charmless people that are flat out annoying to be around. Hathaway, who offers a distractingly bad British accent, brings no charisma to the role of Emma. Part of the problem here is that Nicholls mistakes dry British wit for bitter griping. In glimpses of a scornful Emma working at a Tex-Mex restaurant, her sarcastic attempts at humor are not endearing (or funny), and she instead comes off as a complaining curmudgeon. Sturgess is convincing as the media-proclaimed “most annoying man on television,” which could either be a compliment or an insult. Dexter is not only introduced as selfish, narcissistic, and vain, but these off-putting characteristics are exacerbated by numerous substance addictions. As a result, audiences are presented with a pessimistic woman who is settling in life and a paper-thin, detestable party-boy. Somehow, we are expected to root for their happily ever after.
Since the frustrating narrative structure of the film checks in with Dexter and Emma on the same day every year, only snapshots of their lives are seen and as a result, much of the character development is happening off screen. Although events that serve as life-altering catalysts are shown, moviegoers only get to see the end product of incidents that happened at least one year prior, completely leaving out the work put in to get to that point. The structure also works against the film by only giving the viewer small chunks of screen time to let the relationship develop. It is hard to buy into this couple’s longing for each other when you only see small snippets of annual contact.
After beautifully crafting the thrice Academy Award-nominated 2009 film “An Education,” it is unfortunate that Danish director Lone Scherfig returned with such a shallow piece of melodrama. With its miscalculated humor and nonexistent charm, the years cannot go by fast enough as the underwhelming relationship between Emma and Dexter unfolds.