Friday, September 2, 2011

New Release Review: One Day (Lone Scherfig, 2011)

One Day is a film that I didn’t want to review. But, as I now have this self-appointed obsession to justify my thoughts on every film I see in the cinema, I felt oddly compelled. I arrived home from the screening with the intention of furiously getting something insightful down on paper, but instead I fiddled around on the net watching Youtube videos, replied to some comments, got up to have a cup of tea, and did anything I could think of to preoccupy myself, so that I didn’t have to start this review. Perhaps I wasn’t sure how to start it? Perhaps I didn’t care all that much about the film? Well, the latter is certainly true. 

Anyway, I guess I started out by rambling like this as I tried to collect my thoughts about Lone Scherfig’s (An Education) new film, which is self-adapted by David Nichols from his 2009 beloved and bestselling novel. Here lies the chief problem. As a novel, divided by chapters with room to divulge into the intricacies of what has transpired in the lives of these characters over the previous 12 months, I’m sure this storytelling technique works very well. But as a film, with the lives of the two central characters flying by so fast that it's hard to get a grasp of anything, it comes across as shallow, episodic, dull, emotionally disengaging and ultimately forgettable. 

Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) meet on the night of their University graduation – July 15, 1988 – where they spend the night together, but not in the sense you would normally expect. The alcohol has worn off, and Emma’s flustered self-consciousness has ruined the moment. They decide to remain friends, which at this very early stage of the film, seems strange because it is assumed they have never officially met before this night. The events that transpire don’t really suggest or justify their ongoing friendship. But, nevertheless, the 15th of July remains a significant day for each of them, and as their lives unfold, we drop into them on this day, every year, for almost two decades. Sometimes they are together, bizarrely, more often than not. Sometimes they aren't. Unfortunately, few of the vignettes are very exciting.

As you would expect, a number of things happen to both characters. The talented Emma takes a detour by working at a low-quality Mexican restaurant and forging a relationship with a wannabe comedian before taking up a teaching position and realizing her true calling as a writer of children’s novels. Dexter, constantly traveling around the world, including ‘finding himself in India’ on one occasion, becomes a troubled minor celebrity and a socially unpopular presenter of a poor-taste television program. He is a smarmy womanizer, he turns to drugs and disappoints his upper-class parents with his erratic behaviour. The only thing both unlikable characters look forward to are their meetings together, until they too become unbearable. 

Anne Hathway is a beautiful woman and a talented actress; and one of my favourites, but this is easily the worst performance I have seen her deliver. First of all, her accent is all over the place, and it is an immediate distraction. It seems to be a combination of English, Irish, American and everything in between. Now, I’m no expert on accents, but there was something amiss here. Another reason why this casting is so off-the-mark is that they had to hide Anne’s natural beauty for most of the film. How? By giving her thick spectacles, ugly clothes, frizzy hair and pasty skin, of course. It did work, she did come across as not particularly attractive, but this was so obviously intended. This wasn’t a girl who doesn’t know how to flaunt natural beauty, but a natural beauty made to look unattractive for the purposes of the role. Not surprisingly, she gets better looking every year, eventually to a beyond-stunning point about 15 years into the story. Her transformation is meant to be a big surprise. It's Anne Hathaway, who were they kidding? 

Secondly, her chemistry with Jim Sturgess (who is actually pretty solid here) is hit and miss. There are some scenes near the end where they genuinely gel together, but there are many that are unconvincing. It is a shame because these fine concluding sequences fill in some of the gaps and beautifully reveal just how special that 1988 encounter really was. But it is all too late. Everything we knew we were supposed to feel is reiterated here in a pair of scenes, but never is there any sense of this during the film. Dexter is also a pretty unlikable guy and Emma’s devotion to him is hard to accept.

One Day doesn’t look particularly good either, adopting a cloudy, washed-out palette. It is awkwardly and amateurishly edited too, with jumps to the next year not immediately apparent until we recognize a different hairdo or see a text caption appear in some inventive way. Just in case we weren't sure what year it is, there are temporal references thrown in. These are just amusing because they are so off the mark. Emma and Ian discuss Army of Darkness (1992) and Three Colours: Blue (1993) while Dexter attends a Jurassic Park premiere in July of 2004? What isn’t inventive is the structure of this film, which opens with a short sequence in 2006, and gives away far too much. After flashing back and starting in 1988 with their first meeting, the film winds up revealing what happens in 2006 – a moment of impact that creates far less emotion than intended – and then continues the story for a few more years. Unique.

Of the supporting performances, Patricia Clarkson, as Dexter’s mother, is given little to do, but Rafe Spall, as Emma’s dimwitted boyfriend, was well cast. The best performer is Jim Sturgess, who continues to impress. Dexter is a charismatic and womanising television host and playboy, he comes across as sleazy and repulsive. Tormented both by self-loathing, the disappointment of both his parents (and the death of his mother to cancer) and his own pride in his feelings for Emma, he is conflicted, bitter and depressed for most of the film. He cleans up, makes the transition into husband and father, only to find himself fittingly betrayed, ultimately seeking out the only woman who could ever control him and make him happy.

Overall, this potentially intriguing premise just didn’t work, and this comes down to Nichols, who instead of eliminating some of the years (I mean, some are accentuated by a single clip), decides it will work to include ALL of them. Due to the actors having to overcompensate the changes these characters are undergoing, and having often a single sequence to work with, there was no time to adequately engage us with these chapters in their lives, which exist as nothing more than fleeting glimpses. For the entirety, I felt disconnected from and disinterested in the characters and altogether indifferent to the film. I went in with no knowledge of the novel, so I wasn't disappointed by high expectations. But, with a talented cast and director, it is a shame to see a film misfire in just about every way.

My Rating: 2 Stars (D+)


  1. The only reason I thought about seeing it was because of Lone Scherfig whose work I liked for films like Italian for Beginners, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, and An Education. Then I saw the trailer (which I tried to avoid) and... I went "Uh... I don't know". I'll wait for it on TV though it will take some years for me to revisit An Education. That whole film as good as it is, just reminds me of an extremely bad day for me.

  2. Hi Andy, I'm kind of like you when I don't care about a particular review, sometimes I don't even bother reviewing it at all. Somehow when I saw the trailer for this I thought that Jim seemed ok but that Anne wasn't as convincing, turns out I was right.

  3. Nice review Andrew. The trailer really killed any chance that I would see this movie with Hathaway's accent being totally all over the place. With a horrible turn in Alice in Wonderland and then this, she is really inconsistent as of late.

  4. I loved the book, but I see no reason whatsoever to see the movie. Your review is just another nail in the coffin to me.I'd better stay away or it may colour my memory from the book.

  5. @ Steven - I have only seen An Education from Scherfig's resume, or did she also direct Chocolat with Juliette Binoche? I could be wrong. I liked that film anyway! Yeah, this isn't worth seeing at a cinema, dude!

    @ Ruth - I still manage to come up with something but its sometimes hard when you have little interest in the film. Some of my hardest reviews have been for Thor, Cars 2 and The Conspirator. I didn't enjoy any of those films despite admiring some aspects. But, I spent way too long working on those reviews haha. Yeah, you are spot on. Jim does a good job, and Anne tries hard, but having to attempt the British accent, and look unattractive is just too much of a distraction.

  6. @ Castor - Thanks man. Yeah, it's a shame because I really like her normally. I thought she was good in Love and Other Drugs, but Alice was an odd turn, that's for sure. She wasn't suited to this role at all. I can't recommend this one, my friend. I'm sure it's a great novel, but as a film it just doesn't work. Never once was I absorbed, and though I liked the final sequences, there is just too many dull episodes preceding it.

    @ Jessica - Please don't see this film Jessica, I guarantee you will be disappointed. Just try and remember the novel :-)

  7. Chocolat is Lasse Hallström Andy!

  8. Great Review Andy! Sturgess and Hathaway are fun to watch together, but the rest of the film just feels like a gimmick that was done wrong, and brings nothing new at all to the conventions of the romantic drama.

  9. I couldn't believe how this film ended. Maybe I should have checked out the source material beforehand.

  10. It's a really awful film, right? I actually thought the closing scene was one of the best moments of the film, but waaaay too late. My interest had wavered long before then. As soon as I saw Anne Hathway riding her bike at the start (in 2006) I let out a little groan. I wonder what happens in 2006 later?