Love stories don’t always have happy endings. That’s certainly true in movies as many tragic romances have gone down in cinematic history. Sometimes tragedy strikes as in the case of Love Story where a pining Ryan O’Neal falls head over heels for a terminally ill Ali McGraw. Then, there are films like Casablanca and Brief Encounter where the protagonists ultimately don’t end up together. One Day is a little bit of both. Boy meets girl. They hem and haw for years and just when you think they might find happiness, it winds up being a conclusion a little more bittersweet than expected.
Novelist David Nicholls adapted the screenplay for One Day based on his 2009 novel of the same name. The story begins on July 15, 1988 during the graduation of Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) and Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) from the University of Edinburgh. Dex is a smooth and handsome lad from a well-to-do family while Emma isn’t quite as posh. She wears floral print dresses with black boots and completes the coffee house chic personality by listening to Tracy Chapman. She undoubtedly has Lisa Loeb and the Indigo Girls in her collection. Despite their differences, they spend the night together. While the attraction is obvious, Dex and Emma decide to remain friends. From then on, the film drops the audience into their lives on the anniversary of their first meeting.
As the years progress, the handsome Dex climbs the ladder of success as a famous television personality. When he’s not interviewing celebrities, he’s bedding a variety of vapid beauties. Meanwhile, Emma is stuck in a dead-end waitressing job at a Mexican restaurant and begins a relationship with the awkward Ian (Rafe Spall), a wannabe stand-up comic who isn’t very funny. Time marches on and Dex’s career begins crumbling as he falls deeper into his addictions to drug and alcohol. Meanwhile, Emma goes from being a teacher to living in France as a successful writer of children’s books. During these scenes, Hathaway sports a short hairdo and a pair of big sunglasses that make her look like Audrey Hepburn. Throughout it all, Dex and Emma’s friendship remains as turbulent as their personal lives as they hug and laugh then fight and cry.
Director Lone Scherfig is no stranger to love stories. Her debut picture, Italian for Beginners, is easily the most accessible entry in the Dogme 95 movement and her most successful work, An Education, probably won’t get many viewings on Valentine’s Day. Scherfig directs One Day with a sure hand and crafts a gorgeous looking movie with help from cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, who also shot The Proposition and Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time Is It There? But, the impeccable visuals cannot cover up the lack of compelling characters and thin narrative.
The gimmick of the plot revolving around a specific day makes for an intriguing concept. It’s one that has the potential to lift One Day above the treacle that the Hollywood rom-com machine generally churns out. However, the concept never amounts to anything significant and makes the entire effort feel like a warmed over When Harry Met Sally. Part of the problem is that there is never a clear obstacle in the way of their romance. Dex and Emma aren’t separated by an insurmountable distance or societal morays. They just don’t admit their feelings for one another. The longer this goes on, the more annoying they become and the less invested we become in seeing them get together.
Much has been made in other reviews about Anne Hathaway’s British accent. It’s stronger than the shakier attempts of Natalie Portman or Renee Zellweger, but it’s not the least bit convincing. It is obvious Hathaway was chosen over an English actress for her marketability. Rafe Spall, the son of Timothy Spall, has some good moments as the sweet natured and nebbish Ian. There are also good performances from Ken Stott and Patricia Clarkson as Dex’s parents, even if they have limited screen time.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2:35:1. The transfer is flawless and captures every detail of the beautiful cinematography from Delhomme. This includes the cold, blue opening in Edinburgh at dawn and the warm summer sequences set in France.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is in excellent quality with dialogue coming in crystal clear and buoyed by the melodic score by Rachel Portman.
The Blu-Ray includes an audio commentary with Lone Scherfig, who discusses all the usual topics such as casting, scenes that were cut or ad-libbed, location shooting, and a few elements that didn’t quite work.
Em and Dex: Through the Years (3:41) is a glorified trailer with a few seconds of words from the director and her stars.
Anne Hathaway: Bringing Emma to Life (2:17) is a very quick and shallow look at Anne Hathaway and her character.
The Look of One Day is a featurette that focuses on the make-up, wardrobe, and soundtrack selections that went into recreating the various time periods of the picture. It is broken up into three short sections: “Making a 20 Year Love Story” (1:38), “Creating Emma with Anne (1:59), and “Dexter’s Transformation” (1:47)
Rounding out the disc is a collection of deleted scenes (4:43).
Film Value: 4
One Day may appeal to deeply romantic souls, but this cold-hearted critic found it to be a shallow and sappy experience. This is a film about pretty, yet empty-headed, people and filled with weak attempts at witty banter.