One Day (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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One Day (2011)

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The advertising for One Day is playing a bit of misdirection.  It shows two attractive people denying the love they feel for each other over years and years.  One of the conclusions is obvious to anyone who knows the basic laws of romantic comedy (it's impossible to keep the leads apart), the other actually present in the film is so steeped with cynicism that I stifled a laugh to avoid disrupting those around me who were sadly drawing something from it.

Don't let the poster and commercials deceive you.  Despite the fact that Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess get equal billing and screentime, the movie really only exists as an analysis and commentary on Dexter (Sturgess).  He's a man of privilege and charm who, some sixteen years or so ago, captured the affections of Emma (Hathaway).  They nearly slept together and after deciding to be friends keep a close relationship and running tab on each other's lives.  This near-sex experience happened on July 15th, Saint Swithin's Day, and the film returns to them each year as they grow.

This leads to a number of off-screen developments that hamper a number of interesting supporting characters and stretch the limits of romantic plausibility for the leads.  One Day draws from a number of other films but this chronology is very much in debt to When Harry Met Sally.  But in the latter film we at least get the sense that Harry and Sally are growing as people during their time apart.  Dexter's changes are comfortably predictable from year to year, growing from spoiled playboy to TV-show host to aging failure almost in tune with a metronome as time ticks by.  Emma's evolution is almost non-existent, she begins an idealistic writer with longings for Dexter and ends no less wise or dismayed.

Emma is little more than a supportive cipher, but Anne Hathaway is still quite effervescent in her performance.

Further proof that the film exists for Dexter lies in the sub-plot involving his parent's, neither of which the film bother's to name since it's not their personalities that are important but that they are Dexter's parents.  His father (Ken Stott) has suffered with his spoiled nature for a long time and his mother (Patricia Clarkson) is more supportive but becomes ill during one of the year leaps that I had to stifle another chuckle when we see her in her scarf.  Dad exists so that Dexter can feel shame, mom exists so that Dexter can feel guilty, neither are of much consequence and the only real effect comes from Dad very late in the film.  Emma's parents, friends, family all go entirely unseen since they are not part of Dexter's evolution - only Emma is.

Badly serving the movie are two characters excellently played by Romola Garai and Rafe Spall.  They are Sylvie and Ian, the temporary loves of Dexter and Emma (respectively), whom we know won't last because they weren't on the poster.  But the fatal flaw is that they are far more interesting than either of our leads.  Sylvie has the intriguing through line of maturing through her relationship with Dexter but outgrowing it and maintaining much the same feelings for him, which is much more change (again, all off-screen) than Emma displays.

Then there's poor Ian, a comedian who tries so hard that he becomes the placeholder boyfriend for Emma that she recognizes his need and how she can use it until Dexter comes around.  Played by Rafe, he has much the same kind of lovable sad-sack pathos his father Timothy specializes in.  His yearning and efforts (which, once again, go entirely unseen by us) take him from wannabe comedian to emotional dumping ground to proud father.  I felt genuine joy seeing Ian with his pudgy, adorable family at the end and hated we had to spend all of our time with Dexter.  A better choice would have been to see how Sylvie and Ian rebuilt their lives after coming into contact with these two emotionally entangled individuals, but we have a chronology to maintain and leads to focus on.

It's hard to feel bad for the man who has it all but Jim Sturgess gives just enough pathos to his performance to almost pull it off.

As cynical as One Day is in portraying love as something that is painful and destined to die it is a very good looking movie on all accounts.  I may not like Dexter and am indifferent to Emma, but they're both charming and attractive in the leads.  The supporting work is all very well done, and the script has occassional flashes of intelligence that only film buffs will enjoy.  Yes, there are lines like "Live for the moment" and "Those that can, do..." and so forth but there are also sly references to Alain Delon (of Le Samourai) and an excellent scene with Ian and Emma where he checks to make sure she was ok watching Army of Darkness instead of Three Colors: Blue.  I laughed for a solid minute after this and, let me assure you, I was definitely the only Kieslowski fan in the theater.

One Day is the kind of movie that is easily mistaken for romance.  Yes, there are wet eyes and tender kisses, but the overall message is one of death and abuse.  It's charmingly portrayed and smart to a point but leaves a very bitter aftertaste.  "It's so sad", I heard exiting the theater, "Yes", I thought, "and imagine how sad you would have been if the movie was as honest as it is bleak."

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One Day (2011)

Directed by  Lone Scherfig.
Screenplay by David Nicholls.
Starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

Posted by Andrew

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