Movie can't measure up to the book
Turning best-selling books into a movie is a double-edged sword.
Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in "One Day." (Focus Features)
I was mesmerized by British author David Nicholls’ bestseller, “One Day.” It was literally one of those books I could not put down, so I had high expectations for the film version. After all, it comes with a blue-ribbon pedigree. The author himself adapted the screenplay for the movie, and Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig, fresh off her excellent Oscar nominated film, “An Education,” directs.
Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess play the book’s central characters, Emma and Dexter, two star-crossed lovers (well, not quite lovers; that part comes later) as we follow their lives over two decades, beginning in a near one-night stand as they celebrate graduation from the University of Edinburgh in 1988.
Emma is a sarcastic idealist hoping to be a writer, but buried in self doubt, as she settles for a routine waitress job. Dex seems to cruise through life, all good looks and charm, landing a plum job as a celebrity TV host and as many girls and as much booze, drugs and clubbing London in the pop-soaked ’90s can provide.
Scherfig does a great job re-creating the era, with locations in Edinburgh, Paris and London and a spot-on soundtrack (including Tears for Fears, Fatboy Slim, Stereo MCs) that perfectly evokes the time span.
The clever conceit with Nicholls’ book is that each chapter reconvenes on the same day, July 15, each year (the significance of that date is concealed to the end). As time passes it paints a vivid picture of their lives and how their friendship ebbs and flows. The episodic form that worked so well on the page translates well on film — to a point — as much of the witty dialogue from the book is maintained. But years and story arcs are necessarily condensed, so it’s hard to fully commune with Em and Dex’s disparate lives but unrelenting chemistry that keeps them so connected. When the long-delayed inevitable consummation happens, instead of heart-stopping, it’s anti-climactic.
Unfortunately, Hathaway seems ill suited to play the plain-Jane, working-class girl with high hopes, and she’s clearly uncomfortable with her swallowed Northern English accent. It’s a shame when a marquee name trumps a role that could have been played expertly by countless other British-born actresses.
Thankfully, they chose an appealing British actor to play Dex, but Jim Sturgess’ performance lacks the nuances to bring the complicated character to complete fruition. It’s probably not his fault, as the condensed scenario turns Dex more into a self-centered Lothario than the troubled man who has to learn to grow up fast when life hits some bumpy roads. (Not to mention makeup and graying hair does little to make the youthful actor look anywhere near the 40-plus years he plays at the end of the film).
“One Day” could have easily been the most romantic film of the year, but like the essence of Nicholls’ novel, life doesn’t always live up to expectations. Nor, unfortunately, do films.
KATHERINE TULICH has written about film for more than 20 years. A Sydney, Australia, native, she was the film critic and feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian correspondent for the Hollywood Reporter, and a guest critic on “At the Movies” with Ebert and Roeper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.