Same time, next year for love and loss
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Aug 19, 2011
Need a good cry? Go see "Senna!"
Have a few tears left? You might want to check out "One Day," Lone Scherfig's attractive, if tepid tear-jerker about fate, friendship, love and loss.
Oy, the loss. Anyone who has read the book will be prepared for the radical turn "One Day" takes; those who haven't may want to brace themselves. But even before "One Day" whops viewers over the head with its third-act stunner, it's suffused with the theme of loss, mostly as it relates to those opportunities we let slip through our otherwise occupied fingers, realizing what might have been only when it's too late.
The star-crossed British couple at the center of this familiar object lesson are Emma and Dexter, whose college graduation-night hookup on July 15, 1988, ends in a platonic cuddle amid vows always to stay friends. "One Day," which screenwriter David Nicholls adapted from his own novel, then traces the erstwhile couple's friendship in episodic snapshots captured on succeeding July 15ths, tracing their lives and careers as the brainy, slightly cynical Emma seeks the writer's life and Dexter - rich, spoiled, lazy - becomes a cheesy MTV talk show host.
As personified by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, Emma and Dexter make for a pretty convincing friends-who-should-be-lovers couple, a la Harry and Sally et alia - although purists may wonder why Scherfig, whose winsome adaptation of "An Education" became an art house hit a few years ago - would cast an American actress in a role that demands impeccable British bona fides. (Hathaway's accent is not quite locate-able, although Liverpool occasionally peeks out.) Sturgess, on the other hand, proves quite capable of channeling the kind of charming lout that Hugh Grant played in the similarly structured "Four Weddings and a Funeral." As Dexter's sense of entitled aplomb begins to suffer a few dents, Sturgess bears the physical and psychic signs with weary, bleary authenticity. (Three cheers, too, for Rafe Spall as Ian, one of Emma's suitors and a would-be stand-up comedian. Only someone as skilled as Spall could capture Ian's disastrous timing with such impeccable timing.)
The conceit of "One Day" - that we see the protagonists only one day a year, leaving it to them to reveal what has happened the past 12 months - works better on the page than the screen at times, especially when a pivotal encounter occurs entirely off stage. But, and not surprisingly, Nicholls has proven a faithful shepherd to his fictional creations, who banter and rant at each other with the practiced elan of the aging couple they're clearly meant to be.
"One Day" often seems too tame for its own good, as if its spirited protagonists were censoring themselves in deference to a PG-13 rating. But it has fun with the signs and signifiers of its respective eras, introducing young viewers to such concepts as the "electric typewriter," the "Sony Walkman" and a brand-new doohickey called a "mobile telephone." After that kidney-punch of an ending - and the ensuing endings that follow - "One Day" drives home what these now-ancient artifacts symbolize: Things change so fast, we'd best grab what we love and hold tight as long as we can.
Contains sexual content, partial nudity, profanity and substance abuse.