Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Movie Review: One Day

One Day
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Running Time: 107 minutes
Originally Released: August 19, 2011

* (out of four)

If nothing else can be said about the would-be romantic drama One Day, this can: once the near 25 years depicted in the movie have elapsed, viewers will believe they have devoted at least that much time to watching the film. In fact, it may only take 20-30 minutes for audience members to grow uncomfortably antsy. This is indeed one long, drawn-out day.

In actuality, One Day derives its name from the narrative gimmick of telling a quarter-century-long story via a series of vignettes restricted to the ides of July. In a mostly linear fashion, the film gives us glimpses of the main characters’ lives on July 15th of each year, beginning in 1988 and concluding in the present. Some of these glimpses last less than a minute, while others clock in at a bulkier ten. Through them, we observe the ebb and flow of two individuals’ lives—those of Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess)—their successes and failures, their personal growth and development, and of course, their relationships both professional and romantic. Though Emma and Dexter are good friends—sometimes distantly so, sometimes co-dependently so—the question is whether they will ever amount to more. They almost amounted to more on that first July 15th, the night they graduated college and literally, but only literally, slept together. Flash-forward 365 days and the two would-be lovebirds seem to occupy entirely different worlds. Emma is working as a waitress in London while Dexter, who hails from well-to-do British stock, is making the most of his posh, playboy lifestyle. Somehow, the tie between the former classmates is never quite severed, even as Emma goes from borderline frumpy but upbeat and dedicated working-class girl to successful writer, and Dexter transforms at an even more rapid pace from prissy womanizer to equally prissy but slightly less womanizing B-list celebrity and Joey Lawrence lookalike to an emotionally-matured, deli-owning Taylor Hicks lookalike. Along the way, Emma enters into a halfhearted (for her) relationship with Ian (Rafe Spall in the film’s best performance), a daft but enthusiastic aspiring comedian, while Dexter confronts the fact that his frivolity is a source of disappointment to his father (Ken Stott) and ailing mother (an underutilized Patricia Clarkson).

Put simply, One Day is a very boring film. Watching two disinteresting characters live out a significant portion of their lives—even in the abbreviated and fragmented form this movie employs—is a tall demand, especially for a drama. While Dexter is certainly the more developed of the two lead roles, he is such an effeminate doofus that it is hard to believe any heterosexual female, much less the seemingly respectable Emma, would be charmed by him. Meanwhile, in order to emphasize the contrast between Dexter’s and Emma’s characters, the latter has been stripped of all vitality. That she might play straight to Dexter’s zigzag, the filmmakers have divested Emma of even the most fleeting looks of deep contemplation or joyful enthusiasm. Presumably, Emma is something of an artist deep down inside. But if she is meant to be a gifted writer, why not convey at least some sense of her genius to the audience? Why not tease us with her potential and get us rooting for her to blossom? Instead, Emma remains as washed out as the movie poster that advertises the film (see above). It’s all quite tragically mundane.

Life has its ups and downs, and this is a clich├ęd truism that One Day seeks to exploit. Yet for all of the July 15th’s visited in the film, One Day fails to find a single moment with any real pizzazz, that sparkles and shines and draws the viewer in. The dedicated moviegoer may note with stoic objectivity that, indeed, time has passed and lives have changed onscreen, but the experience is all too monochromatic. Whatever magic may exist in the pages of the book on which this film was based, it has not found its way to the big screen. And that makes the 25 years that pass between the movie’s opening and closing credits feel like an eternity.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad. It sounds like an interesting idea- a good character sketch could be done or something!