5 Reasons to Love and Hate ‘One Day’

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One Day

Directed by Lone Scherfig

Written by David Nichols

Based on his book

2011, USA

Around the time of its release, Ricky wrote a wonderful column on Super 8 called “8 Reasons to Love or Hate Super 8, instead of writing an official review for the film.  Rick loved the film but he also thought there were significant flaws.  He argued both sides for why he loved Super 8 and why another critic would justifiably hate the film. I have decided to do a similar thing with One Day, the latest film by Lone Scherfig and her first since 2009’s An Education, my favorite film of that year. I was greatly anticipating this film due to my love for An Education and despite the meh trailers, I still went in hopeful.  I guess I have to acknowledge the ridiculousness of this column.  One Day is a film that received mostly terrible reviews and it finished in 9th place at the box office on its opening weekend, despite a big marketing campaign.  Super 8 was a moderate box office success and a critical darling, while the buzz leading up to its release far exceeded Scherfig’s film.  What I am trying to say is One Day will likely be gone from theatres in the next two weeks.  However, I liked the film, despite a ton of flaws.  I don’t think it deserves the critical drubbing that it has received and it is a nice alternative to all the loud and dumb action movies currently populating our screens at the multiplex.  Initially I was going to write a review for the film but you can hear my review with Kate Kulzick on an upcoming podcast, and instead of doing that I have decided to write my own “love-hate” column for One Day.

1. The Premise

The premise of the film is primarily responsible for all the film’s faults and yet it is also the film’s saving grace.  The central conceit is that Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) meet on July 15th, otherwise known as St. Swithin’s Day, and we follow both of these characters on the following July 15th’s for about 25 years, some of them together and some apart.  Because of this, most of the time we spend is with Dexter or Emma, and it allows for those characters really breathe.  They don’t feel like cliches at all, but real people going through the daily struggle of life.

The problem with this is that it leaves very little room for the supporting characters.  While some of them do stand out (more on that in a moment), many of them feel like stock clichés.  They end up becoming types like the blonde bimbo and the ditzy best friend.  The blonde slut is Suki, a character that takes up with Dexter while he is hosting a TV show.  The character could have just made a cameo appearance, yet she is brought back in multiple scenes, and she serves no real purpose.  Tilly is a completely useless character as well.

2. The Performances

The two lead performances given by Sturgess and Hathaway essentially carry the film, not a surprise considering either one of them is in almost every single frame.  Going in, I was expecting to be annoyed by Hathaway’s attempt at a British accent.  Don’t get me wrong, she is a fine actress, but whenever she really has to put on a character (Brokeback Mountain/Ella Enchanted), she can becoming irritating quickly. However, she gives a very nuanced performance as Emma, and while the accent is inconsistent, it is by design, as the character is constantly on the move. However, it is Sturgess who carries the film on his back and gives what is likely his best performance to date.  He is charming and likable, but isn’t afraid of Dexter’s darker side.  He spends a good portion of the film being a prick, and yet manages to be sympathetic.  Patricia Clarkson is also wonderful as Dexter’s mom, and her two scenes are some of the film’s best.  Romola Garai plays Sylvie, Dexter’s first wife, and she adds a lot of depth to a character that could have been one-note (more on her character later).

Unfortunately, some of the supporting performers do not fare as well.  Jodie Whittaker, one of the best young British actresses around and so wonderful in this summer’s Attack the Block, is completely wasted as Tilly, Emma’s best friend.  She has two scenes and her character isn’t much more than a ditz.  Rafe Spall (Timothy’s son) does the best he can with a poorly written role as Emma’s first serious boyfriend Ian.  Spall has some nice moments but his character becomes a victim of the film’s central conceit.

3. A Beautiful Story of Male-Female Friendship/Not Really a Romance

Something that One Day does that is extremely rare in movies these days is present a realistic look at a male-female friendship.  Most films do not portray this in a realistic light, choosing to instead have men and women in only one kind of relationship: a romantic one.  At the end of the day, Dexter is Emma’s best friend and Emma is Dexter’s best friend.  They are both there for each other in times of need and both rely on each other for advice.  It’s wonderful to hear the banter between the two characters because it feels so realistic and fresh.  One of the most moving scenes in the film is after a particularly bad fight with his father, Dexter tearfully calls Emma and tells her that he must speak to her.  This scene struck me as so emotionally honest and relatable, especially when compared to the typical Hollywood fare.  Unfortunately, it is the romance between the two characters that doesn’t really work that well.  While it is handled tastefully, it would have been much more courageous for writer David Nichols and director Scherfig to have them remain friends.

4. Soundtrack

Perhaps the best thing about this film is its soundtrack.  The film is saturated with music from the 90s that fits the film so perfectly.  It’s not that all of the songs are great, some of the early 90s one hit wonders include Corona (“The Rhythm of the Night”) and the immortal Robbie Williams (“Angels”) but those songs fit in perfectly with the time period.  Some of the highlights include Primal Scream (“Rocks”), Black Grape (“Reverend Black Grape”), Tricky (“Aftermath”), and Tears for Fears  (“Sowing the Seeds of Love”).  However my favorite selection is a remix of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You.”  Whenever I listen to that song now, I immediately think of One Day.

5. The Script

The script is both excellent and deeply flawed at the same time.  On the one hand Nichols’s script is very smart and it is refreshing to hear dialogue with such wit. Another strength is in its realism.  In any other film, Sylvie (Garai), Dexter’s first wife, would have been a complete cliché, inviting us to hate her.  She carries on an affair with one of Dexter’s close friends during their first year of marriage, yet after the divorce, she becomes a constant source of comfort for Dexter.  She is there for him during some of his darkest hours.  They remain good friends after the divorce.  Unfortunately the script feels far too faithful to the book, which might be attributable to Nichols’s having penned the book as well. Had another writer come in and adapted the film, there probably would have been more room to breathe.

Still, it’s a good film and one worth seeing in the theatre.

Josh Youngerman

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