Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Day

The thing about European directors is that they don’t put all of their faith in dialogue. They are okay with letting actions speak louder than words. And they aren’t afraid to hold a scene for a few seconds longer than an American would dare, to capture a look or a glance or an embrace that propels the story forward on an emotional level and allows the audience to become emotionally invested in the moment. One Day succeeds on a diet of those very moments in which actors allow joy or hurt to wash over them in an uninterrupted moment of truth. The plot may suffer under the unfortunate burden of a gimmick, but the emotions that course through it are very real.

And the plot is indeed, very much unfortunate. It takes place one day every year from the late 80s until the present. That day is July 15 and the first time we encounter it we find Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) on their graduation day. Obviously coming from a few drinks, Emma and Dexter part from their friends and, not having spoken much to one another, but thinking what the hell, go back to her place.

She is nervous, hasn’t had much experience with this. When she comes out of the washroom she finds him putting his pants back on. He says he’ll stay and they both decide to sleep in the same bed but just remain good friends.

So one day, every year, we drop in on them, whether they are together, apart, single or in a relationship, just to see how things are getting on. Emma morphs from the geeky school girl into a true beauty and moves from plans of grandeur to working in a cheap London taco place, where she is offered a managers job because she seems to have the fewest future prospects, to hooking up with an shaggy bum trying to make a run of being a stand-up comedian.

Dexter has a mom (Patricia Clarkson) who is dying of cancer, a father who is loving but distant, goes on to become the host of some cheap musical variety show and delves into sex and drugs before finally settling down.

Along the way the duo meet up, share pleasantries, exchange entries into their life diaries and go about their business. Sometimes they just stop by to say hi, and sometimes they go off on trips together. Sometimes they like each other and sometimes they can see each other slowly drifting away and the whole time you just wish they would both wise up, see the conclusion that is so inevitable to the rest of us and just get on with getting together already.

And yet in spite of all of this there are those little moments that sneak in, between the cracks of scenes in with Hathaway shoots a glance or Sturgess comes to some unspoken realization in which the film let’s us know that, despite it’s plot, it is dealing with serious melodrama and serious melodrama is founded on serious emotions. Hathaway and Stugress make a believable pair and it’s in those quiet human moments where the film settles down, takes a moment to breathe and invests something real into the story. It’s in those moments that the film finds the true beauty that is inherent in this story.

It’s unfortunate then that the film doesn’t have the courage to just tell it’s story straight. We are jerked around so much in time with such frequency that it’s hard to settle down into the natural rhythms of these characters and their story. The film was directed by Lone Schefig, whose last film An Education also told the story of an unlikely romance, but took the time to flesh out a story that unfolded in the moment across a natural span of time.

Here Schefig provides all the charm, heart and wisdom of that film but constantly feels at war against the inherent limitations of her plot and one gets to realizing that, charming as it has been, one day in the life of characters just isn’t enough. Here’s a film that, thanks to its stars and its makers is far better than it should be (it certainly, if nothing less, achieves everything it sets out to), but still just one step short of what it could have been.


  1. Great Review Man! 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.

  2. What a coincidence! I just saw the trailer for this movie this afternoon when I went to see The Debt (which I just now realise is a 2010 film)... I hadn't heard of it before, but the trailer caught my attention + Anne Hathaway... and now your review? Great! I will definitely be seeing this one!
    Thanks for the great review! :o)