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One Day (2011)
Movie Reviews

One Day (2011)

Doesn’t shy away from many of life’s harsher realities, including disillusionment, reversals of fortune, and loss, with convincing performances by Hathaway and Sturgess.

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There are two ways to look at a film that covers twenty-plus years yet takes place on the exact same date. On the one hand, you’re faced with the task of piecing together a plot separated by wide narrative gaps. It’s reasonable – nay, mandatory – to assume that a great deal takes place over the course of one year; without actually bearing witness to those in-between events, we have only the characters’ dialogue to go on, as well as our own intuition. On the other hand, gaps in cinematic time can accurately reflect the gaps in real time. When you reunite with a friend after a number of years, for example, you’re forced to make that connection between now and the last time you saw this person. He or she can verbally fill you in, but without actually being in their lives, there’s no real way to know what you have missed out on.

I leave it to you to determine which angle of approach is appropriate for One Day. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think there is one right answer. I think it depends entirely on what you bring to the film. I personally found the experience both frustrating and fascinating. Believe it or not, this is a good sign. It means that the film is never once boring. As far as its genre goes, it’s actually kind of refreshing. It has romance and comedy, but it cannot be pigeonholed as a rom-com; screenwriter David Nicholls, who adapted his own novel, has crafted a story that doesn’t shy away from many of life’s harsher realities, including disillusionment, reversals of fortune, and even loss. The movie serves as a painful but accurate reminder that life comes with no guarantees, that growing older often means having to make compromises and abandoning youthful aspirations.

Although the story unfolds over the course of nearly two decades, every scene takes place on one specific date, specifically July 15. Beginning in 1988, we follow Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), who first met the day they graduated from Edinburgh University. After spending the night together, they decide to not get romantically involved, but rather remain friends. We then watch as their lives move ahead in different directions. Emma, an aspiring writer and poet, is forced to become a waitress at a lowly Mexican restaurant to make ends meet. Only gradually do her ambitions become a reality; she becomes a teacher and finally writes her first novel, which is a success. Along the way, she tries desperately to maintain a romantic relationship with a man named Ian (Rafe Spall), who fancies himself a comedian but wouldn’t know funny even if it came up and bit him.

Dexter, a bit more easygoing and reckless, does some travelling before becoming the host of a tasteless nighttime talk show. His success is short lived; within just a few years, he’s demoted from primetime television to cable to late-night video game reviewer. His failing career can be attributed to an increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs, although we never actually see the latter being used. As the years progress, he suffers many personal setbacks, including the illness and death of his mother (Patricia Clarkson), the disapproval of his emotionally distant father (Ken Stott), his failed relationship with a fellow TV presenter, and his disastrous marriage to a woman with no sense of humor (Romola Garai), with whom he had a daughter. He ultimately becomes involved in the organic foods business, largely through the help of an old friend (Tom Mison).

Emma and Dexter maintain their friendship over the years, although it will be tested on numerous occasions. There will eventually come a point at which they’re forced to reassess their feelings for one another. Should they make the transition from best friends to lovers? It’s not as clear cut as it might seem; although they know each other so intimately, they’re very different people, and opposites don’t always attract despite what convention dictates. At this point, the story takes a couple of dramatic turns, none of which I will spoil for you. I will say that, because this is a love story, one that’s both funny and heart-wrenching, there is inherent a certain degree of predictability.

Hathaway and Sturgess have the necessary chemistry to pull off convincing performances. They’re helped along by Nicholls’ smart dialogue, which is equal parts wit and sentiment. The opening scenes are especially well-written, and the leads bounce their lines off of each other like skilled ping pong players. I also enjoyed Spall, who seems like a cross between Steve Coogan and David Walliams. As Ian, he successfully walks the line between ordinarily unfunny and just plain pathetic. All of the actors handle the material well, but I think it was the structure of One Day I responded to the most. Gaps in time are always difficult to jump over, and admittedly, a number of plot details are conveniently glossed over. All the same, I can’t overlook the fact that the film isn’t idealized. We may fall in love, but we may never be prepared for what life has in store for us.

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi