Thursday, 22 September 2011

FILM REVIEW: One Day


Firstly - HUGE apologies for this late review. I'd had it half written for ages and things keep getting in the way of me completing it (generally my laziness). Also now I'm distracted as how much does Anne Hathaway look like Rachel McAdams in the above picture? Now I'm going to be thinking about The Notebook instead!

That's probably a good place to start, actually: as One Day is this year's big weepie, based on a best selling book, about a couple who are destined to be together but life gets in the way, and when they finally do unite it all becomes horribly tragic. I have the read the book (who hasn't?), but wasn't expecting this to be anything other than a fluffy and well meaning interpretation of the story to the big screen. Author David Nicholls was screenwriting so there was no-one to maul the plot points, and director Lone Scherfig has already flexed her retro British muscles with An Education. It was going to be perfectly fine, but unable to touch the book.

I enjoyed the book a lot, and loved the concept of it - ideally something I would have come up with if I was sharp enough. Dexter and Emma meet on the last day of University in Edinburgh in the late 80s, and after an awkward fumble around they bond over a ramble up Arthur's Seat, and remain friends there on in. We tune into their lives every July 15th (coincidentally when so many important events happen in their lives...) and see emotions change, personalities blossom and poison, friends and family moving on and moving away, and their bond strengthening or collapsing. It's a beautifully captured timeline of life, enhanced by Nicholls' fluent and charming dialogue, and ability to make us feel like Dexter and Emma are a couple we know and are friends with. We get to know them so intimately, all their flaws and soft spots, so whatever happens we are going to be incredibly moved. We follow them for 300 plus pages, are right inside their heads, desperate for fate to kick in. Unfortunately you cannot get that from a film. Not unless you want to make it a three hour epic packed with voiceover and long periods of the characters staring into nothingness. One Day in the world of cinema is a rom-com, therefore it has to comply to the rom-com rules: under two hours, lots of banter, conflict and consequences, stirring ballads and an ending full of emotional veracity (this can be happy, sad, reflective or inspirational. OR ALL). So a watered down version of the book, then. This is what you're gonna get.

To begin with it all feels very sketchy: the scenes are so short it takes a while for them to stack up before they begin to carry any weight. It's the longer scenes that help, when we get to stay with the characters in a particular moment in time (the holiday, Dexter visiting his mother, the argument in the bar, Tilly's wedding, etc). I was also put off by the number of seemingly unnecessary (budget?) changes they made, such as setting all of the overseas moments in France/Paris (I'm fairly certain Dexter teaches English in Rome, and they went on holiday to Greece), and I was severely disappointed when they make up at Tilly's wedding on a rooftop and not in the middle of a hedge maze. Where were the constraints in that? I know a dozen hedge mazes they could have used! Maybe it's exceedingly hard to film in a maze? (Stanley Kubrick did it, ahem). And there were times when they were too faithful: the scented candle line had absolutely no fondness to it whatsoever, it just felt like a really, really oddball thing to say.

Did Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway manage to convince? I think so. They both had the likability factor, both were able to get to the heart of their characters, and both made me cry A LOT at the end. I'm a quiet fan of Jim Sturgess anyway, I thought he did extremely well in this as Dexter can be such a tosspot (and he played a dandyish Hugh Grant quite well too) and he managed to bring out the vulnerability and redemptive side of him: or a man stumbling through life best he can. I loved his scenes with his on-screen daughter in particular. But Anne Hathaway - as adorable as she is - did what she could with Emma, but truthfully, it should have been a British actress. I'd heard word her accent is all over the place, but I still thought people were exaggerating with how jolting it makes the experience of watching her. But it really does. Some phrases she can do in a Yorkshire droll, but the rest she has to speak in a flimsy British accent with American twangs poking through. She didn't have to maintain the Yorkshire accent (not everyone from Leeds has one, y'know, wink) - her character lives in London practically her whole life plus a stint in Edinburgh. It comes across more as if she is mocking a farmer's accent, and you can't help but think her on-screen friends and co-workers must think she's a loony. There are tonnes of British actresses who could have done this role: Rebecca Hall, Emily Blunt, Hayley Atwell, Claire Foy... It just seems a waste they had to opt for star power to get the American market interested.

Other than Hathaway's jerky speech, it's a very English film. I loved the tacky Channel 5-ness of Dexter's chatshow; the down to earth geekiness of Emma's boyfriend Ian reading Watchmen or performing a floundering gig at The Fox & Hound; the embarrassing wedding reception karaoke and changing the words to Angels; but especially Dexter's father stating firmly that Silent Witness was on at 9pm. So keep quiet it's the landmark on the evening. Usually I hate tweeness like this, but here it really touched me.

I can see myself watching One Day again: it has that engaging quality about it which sucks you in. And compared to a lot of other rom-coms out there, it's sweet and affecting. But the book is better, and I'm afraid your man isn't going to care. If you have one though, you'll find yourself hugging him tightly later on in the day for reasons only known to yourself.



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