With Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Rafe Spall; Running Time: 108 minutes; Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, partial nudity, language, some violence and substance abuse); Written by David Nicholls; Directed by Lone Scherfig.
ONE DAY is going to strike some people as a treacly tearjerker. For others it will be one from the heart. Those who like it will have to ignore its contrivance and focus on its emotional core, which is the story of two friends who become playthings of fate, with the true love they might have found in another story somehow always just out of reach.
Screenwriter David Nicholls has adapted his own novel about two British college graduates who meet on July 15, 1988 and spend the night together. We follow them over the years on that date as their paths cross and recross. Emma is a mousy would-be writer who, in true Hollywood tradition, is played by the gorgeous Anne Hathaway, only wearing glasses. She gets a job waitressing in a greasy spoon and falls in with Ian, a co-worker and aspiring standup comic (Rafe Spall).
Meanwhile Dexter (Jim Sturgess) gets a job hosting a youth-oriented television show and is so in-your-face that he becomes the TV personality that people love to hate. Neither Emma nor Dexter is living up to their potential, but as the years go by, life happens. Dexter’s mother, Alison (Patricia Clarkson), falls ill. Emma and Ian move into together. Dexter marries. Still the two stay in touch, making us think that this will be one of those stories where love and happiness doesn’t occur at first, but at last.
This is the sort of story for people who can relate to the “one that got away,” or the great love of one’s life that was unrequited, or perhaps even the great love that briefly flowered but could not last. It is a story of memory and rueful regret, and the recognition that even if it was not meant to be, the other person in such a situation can still touch our lives in profound and long-lasting ways.
With the movie covering more than two decades it’s also about growing up and growing older. What seems like success in our twenties may not seem the same in our forties. The things that appear impossibly out of reach at one stage of our lives may become achievable goals later on. As Emma and Dexter get older their priorities change, even as their friendship endures, and that’s an important part of the story as well.
Anne Hathaway herself is a good example of these themes. Over the last decade she’s gone from movies like “The Princess Diaries” and “Ella Enchanted” to movies like “Rachel Getting Married” and this. She still does lightweight films like “Valentine’s Day,” but she’s reaching out for greater challenges as she gets older, even holding her own opposite Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” As Emma she explores the frustrations of young adulthood and the growing confidence that comes with successfully taking chances as she gets older.
Jim Sturgess is less well-known – not yet a star – but he’s been quietly moving from film to film, building up his résumé with some good performances in movies like “21” and “The Way Back.” This may be his highest profile work yet. His Dexter is someone who could get by on glibness and good looks but wants more than that out of life, even if he’s not quite sure what. His character has to face a few hard knocks after coasting through his early life, coming out wiser for it.
“One Day” will move those who choose to be moved. Cynics need not apply.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.