School of Continuing Education
One Day (2011)
By the time “One Day,” a decades-spanning nonromance, gets around to making one of its main characters seem like an actual human, the film’s just about over. That’s a fundamental problem for filmmaker Lone Scherfig, who follows up her overrated “An Education,” and screenwriter David Nicholls, adapting his novel.
For the first two-thirds of the picture, protagonists Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) are ciphers at the whim of a gimmicky narrative, which charts the evolution of their close friendship (and repressed romance) beginning on July 15, 1988 before continuing on the same date each successive year.
The movie has that familiarly luxurious, middlebrow English polish, complete with scenes set at university, inside small London flats and on the capital’s picturesque grey streets. Parisian cafés and bridges play major roles, too. Ms. Hathaway and Mr. Sturgess are pretty people, to be sure; and there are far more unpleasant subjects to consider than the possibility that their characters might some day finally get the romantic hint.
But much as “An Education” indulged in a sort of refined dullness, with period accoutrements and restrained longing standing in for a compelling narrative, “One Day” operates in a prestige-pic vacuum. Until things start turning sharply against Dexter, who is revealed to be an unusually luckless and troubled individual, the film is basically about little more than two people making goo-goo eyes at each other and pretending nothing’s happening.
The fractured chronological foundation doesn’t translate to film, with the character arcs stifled by the fragmented glimpses at their stories. A lot of life happens in the course of a year. While a novel can incorporate omniscient narration to distill the feelings and experiences of a full seasonal cycle onto the page, film’s visual emphasis makes that a much steeper challenge. For “One Day” to work, the audience must be able to infer much more from the actors’ brief snippets of interactions than these performers can provide.
Instead, the film is rooted to the surface, a slave to its premise and the abiding lack of insight that comes with its faulty concept. With the romance a dud and the lead actress at her most cloyingly precious, Ms. Scherfig is left with two salvations: the cinematography’s period-travelogue quality and Dexter’s gradually compelling journey through hardship, as movingly embodied by Mr. Sturgess. While the last element makes for an engaging culmination to the enterprise and goes a long way toward raising its overall profile, it’s still an insufficient response to an hour-plus of facile tedium.
Opens on Aug. 19 in the United States and on Aug. 24 in Britain.
Directed by Lone Scherfig; written by David Nicholls, based on his novel; director of photography, Benoit Delhomme; edited by Barney Pilling; music by Rachel Portman; production design by Mark Tildesley; costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux; produced by Nina Jacobson; released by Focus Features. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.
WITH: Anne Hathaway (Emma), Jim Sturgess (Dexter), Patricia Clarkson (Alison), Ken Stott (Steven), Romola Garai (Sylvie) and Rafe Spall (Ian).