Thursday, September 8, 2011

One Day

"July 15ths with Emma and Dex"
"Same Time Next Year"

Can a man and woman "just" be friends? (the question posed by When Harry Met Sally)  I've gone 'round and 'round with this one. I've said "Yes" for many years, and then that became "No," then back to "Yes," and now, it's something of a toss-up. "It's possible," I say noncommittally (which is the basis for many of the male-female problems, friendship or no).

But anything is possible.
"One Day" was a nifty best-seller by David Nicholls, smart, tight and funny, a romance told in snap-shots of one day that was realistic about the vagaries of life and love and the "yin" and "yang" of both. What makes the novel special gets distilled somewhat in celluloid form, making One Day feel a bit less exceptional, the humor muted somewhat, and given the twenty year time-span of the movie, some of the anniversaries celebrated are given short shrift, skipping to the more complicated "good parts," as opposed to those years when nothing much know, like "life."*

Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) have "just met" at their graduation as they string along with their mutual friends, a couple.  Emma is bookish, unstylish, a bit of a character—has a "nice personality"—Dexter is boyishly handsome and knows it, and Emma is "crushing."  An awkward "overnight" happens, where it is unclear what transpired, but it's important enough that Dexter is helping Emma move when the next 15th of July occurs, but not important enough that Dexter isn't moving to Paris to teach.

July's come and July's go, as Emma suffers through waitressing at a London Tex-Mex restaurant and Dexter jumps from job to job, eventually becoming  the smarmy host for a late-night dance teen program. Where Emma is a busy bee, droning through know-where jobs until she catches her big break, Dex is a moth attracted to the brightest (or blondest) thing in the room. They're devoted to each other, but only so far. As her star rises, his sets—first Mom (the ever-reliable Patricia Clarkson) dies of cancer, then his fortunes go South, followed by years of over-indulgence. Before you can say "This is Mrs. Norman Maine," he is seeking her out, where she has nearly given up. As traditional as this is, what is nice about One Day is that Emma does just fine without him, she makes her way in the world without a man's help (and frequently, they're a hindrance), whereas in most films of the romantic genre, everything can be solved by anything in pants.

The director, Lone Scherfig, previously made An Education, which, while well-acted and elegantly directed, suffered from a distinct lack of heat and a little too much posh.  The former problem still applies here. The film is decidedly chilly in tone, and while this is a welcome change from the day-glo color, syrupy music rom-coms that chirp incessantly about Moon, June, (premarital) Honeymoon," poking you in the heart-area that "Love is Great, right? RIGHT?" One Day makes it hard to feel anything beyond "Gee...that sucks."

Maybe it's the skipping around from year to year, but there's a distinct lack of focus in the story, as it spreads itself around a bit too thin, the ancillary characters populating the movie to make life difficult for Emma and Dexter, necessary irritants and bothers that will drive them into each other's arms every year.  Plus, the story arcs of the two main characters run precipitously up and down, without any jolts of happiness amidst the gloom, or hurdles to happiness on the ascent.* Things settle down as people "settle" and, although One Day manages to avoid many of the cliches of the romantic genre, it also hasn't found anything as compelling to replace them. Plus, with the mutual reversals of fortune, there seems to be a dramatically required "level of the playing field" in order for things to resolve "the way they should".

One should be grateful that one is asking these questions about a romance movie (haven't done that in a while), so it's nice to see somebody making the attempt. But, one gets the idea that the same old "Love Potion No.9" is being hawked. All they've done is change the shape of the bottle.

One Day is a Rental. 

* One of my favorite quotes is by Anton Chekhov: Any idiot can survive a crisis; it's the day-to-day living that wears you down.

**  Well, that's not entirely true, but we don't want to give anything away. 

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