Based on the bestselling book of the same name, One Day tells the story of Emma and Dexter (Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess), who meet on their last day of college and remain lifelong friends. The film tells their story through glimpses at their relationship on the same day every year – July 15th.
One Day – the book – has fans around the world, and before the film was released, it was easy to spot those who were looking forward to it; they were reading the book, for what could be the hundredth time, on public transport. The premise and structural idea of the book is a real unusual treat – tell the story by joining our heroes on the same day every year. Sadly, this format does not work so well on the big screen. What was a refreshing method of moving the story forward on paper becomes a hindrance to the film. These glimpses into the lives of Emma and Dexter are short and unsatisfying, apart from knowing the year, we have to wait for a couple of minutes each time to find out what has changed between the pair in the 364 days since we saw them last. The film could have benefitted from the narration that makes the book work so well, and helps us identify with the characters. Instead, these jumps forward in time keep our relationship with the characters superficial and by the end of the film we never feel like we knew them at all, so great are their personal changes with every jump.
The casting – for the most part – is great. Jim Sturgess is every inch the romantic hero; the man who does not know what he wants until it is almost too late. He embraces the character well, and portrays a man who is lost without the woman he loves – be it in the TV scene of the early 1990s, or the loneliness of a middle aged man who is simply lost. Patricia Clarkson is wonderfully cast as Dexter’s mum, even though we see far too little of her. She plays the character at her absolute best and her absolute worst, and manages to have fun with both parts. This is not a surprise really, since Clarkson brightens up any film that she is in; even Friends with Benefits.
The problem with the casting really is Anne Hathaway. There is no denying that Ms Hathaway has grown up wonderfully from the tween days of Ella Enchanted and has become a fine comedic and dramatic actress, the problem with her in One Day is twofold. First of all, Emma is from Yorkshire, but Hathaway’s accent jumps from Northern to Southern so often and so suddenly that one has to wonder where her dialect coach was for most of the film. There are plenty of amazing English actresses; why weren’t they cast in this role? The other problem is harder to define. There is very little chemistry between the two characters until Emma becomes a success in her own right, so it is hard to see why Emma and Dexter would remain friends if their friendship was so unrewarding. Sturgess sparkles in every scene that he is in, so sadly, the blame must lie with Hathaway. It’s a shame, she could have brought something special to One Day, but instead her portrayal of Emma leaves the audience wondering why Dexter kept coming back to her, other than her massive, all-encompassing crush on him that he had to know about.
That said, however, it is notoriously hard to adapt a beloved book for the screen. For example, The Time Traveller’s Wife is a beautifully written, well-crafted novel that just did not translate to the screen. With regard to One Day, other than the casting, trying to cram 20 years of a story into 90 minutes on screen does not work well, but for those who have not read the book, maybe it is the love story we have been waiting for all year. From the superficial treatment the story is given, however, this does not seem to be the case. Jim Sturgess’s star can only rise from here, but this is a career low that Anne Hathaway should maybe try and forget about.