DVD Review of One Day: An unforgettable tale of a decades-long friendship (rather than the sweeping romance its posters make it out to be), the adaptation of David Nicholls’ internationally adored novel doesn’t quite live up to its source material, but does succeed in perhaps the most important way: like the book, it subtly and not-so-subtly reminds its audience that life usually doesn’t go as planned.
The following is a reprint of Redblog’s theatrical review of One Day, which is now at Redbox.
It’s impossible to describe how nervous I was to see One Day. I’m viciously protective of my favorite books, and David Nicholls’ brilliant novel upon which One Day is based made my Top Five Favorite Books of All Time list late last year. Another title that appears on that shortlist is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, and I remember how much it pained me to see critical parts of that novel drastically changed or compromised for its 2009 big-screen adaptation. I feared the same thing would happen again with One Day.
The good news is that Nicholls himself wrote the screenplay, which drops in on Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) every July 15—starting in 1988 when they first meet on their college graduation day (get ready to cringe at their outfits), and ending over 20 years later in the present (let’s just say that Dex’s hard-partying ways lead him to age much more noticeably than Em). Sturgess is brilliant as the wealthy, cocky, selfish, and often clueless Dex. It’s easy to believe that any woman—even one as smart, strait-laced, and grounded as Emma—would forgive this guy for his transgressions again and again and again because he’s precisely the kind of irresistible “innocent bad boy” that could pull off such a feat.
Another reason why Emma’s able to continue her relationship with Dex over the years is because that relationship is almost entirely platonic. I can’t help but think that most people who rent this one without having read the book will be surprised by how little Em and Dex are together together. The film’s marketing makes it out to be an epic love story, which it is in a way, but it’s more like an epic friendship story, where the friendship just so happens to be between a male and female. Sure, Em and Dex have been attracted to each other since 1988, but the brilliance of both Nicholls’ book and the adaptation is how they ring so true to real life. Movies—especially romances—don’t usually reflect “the way it is.” But One Day gets it right. Its message is that your soul mate may be your best friend, but being someone’s best friend isn’t always pretty and doesn’t happen instantaneously. That special someone could be the person who helps you look at the bright side of working a crappy waitressing job for years, or who gives you hope that your spectacular flame-out on live TV really isn’t the end of your career, or who can look you in the face and tell you when you’re being an idiot, or whose voice is the only one you want to hear after tragedy strikes. Em and Dex do these things for each other… while they’re attached to different people (and in Dex’s case, quite a long list of different people).
What’s missing from the film is the inner monologue that readers of the book were privy to—Em and Dex’s voices, which revealed that the two did have conflicting feelings for each other all along. For the film, Nicholls had no choice but to cut out several subplots that gave a stronger sense of who Em and Dex were, both individually and together. On top of those cuts in the screenplay, director Long Scherfig (An Education) chose to let us draw our own conclusions about what might be going through Em and Dex’s minds. Hathaway and Sturgess are able to convey a lot through just a solemn look, a longing glance, a brow furrow or an exasperated shrug, but they can’t overcome the lack of character and relationship depth that results from trying to cover two decades of the pair’s lives in less than 110 minutes. (That’s not even six minutes per year, mind you.)
Since I’m such a huge fan of the book (will you just trust me and read it already?), I can’t be sure that my enjoyment of the film version isn’t partially attributable to my memories of what else I remembered happening between its main characters. What I do know is that I thoroughly expected to be fuming by the time the end credits rolled, and instead breathed a huge sigh of relief: the uplifting feeling and profound sense of hope that Emma and Dexter’s story gave me when I read Nicholls’ novel eight months ago was preserved, if not expanded upon, in Scherfig’s version of One Day.
One Day is now at Redbox.
Reserve a copy tonight!