07 September 2011

Filmbook: "One Day" (2011, dir. Lone Scherfig)

In case you haven't been pressed to read it yet, David Nicholls' 2009 novel follows the relationship of Emma and Dexter, college classmates who have a fling the night of graduation and then stay in touch over the next 20 years, through bad jobs (mostly hers), flashes of fame (mostly his), lovers, moves and deaths. Each year receives a chapter in the book, which allows Scherfig in the film adaptation to play at onscreen supertitles that bounce and float over each year's new scene, with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as the friends, etcetera who you watch slowly growing old.

The character of Dexter is extremely effective because he represents the fusion of two types of people that hang around in people's lives, both of which happen to be popular archetypes in romantic storylines: He's the friend who you've known for so long you can say the same things over and over to each other and have the conversation still be meaningful, and he's the friend on whose account you always wonder, "What if?" Taken together this is an extremely potent arrangement. Unfortunately as written by Nicholls he's also a selfish manchild, the kind Nick Hornby characters are often accused of being (slash are, if you don't like Nick Hornby I guess).

That Dexter and Emma stayed in touch thereafter seems like a minor miracle from the vantage of this technologically cozy age. In the book I thought it was made clearer, although the movie only winks at it, that Emma is doing most of the heavy lifting there, an observation for which I either want to pat Nicholls on the back or kick his ass because of the problematic wish-fulfillment this sets up for the man and woman in the novel... but I digress.

Dexter has been niced up some for Lone Scherfig's adaptation (with Nicholls' screenplay, so it's not like he wouldn't have known about it), which didn't bother me because it wasn't too extreme. Some other faint praise: This movie is pretty, as befits a romance, and the flashes and tableaus that looked out of place in "The Help" were fitting here; even the ending is rendered in a way that makes it almost beautiful. Scherfig's camera zips and lingers along with (befitting) the plot, and there are a lot of fun subtle nods to the passage of time, particularly the karaoke scene. The in-role aging of the characters is realistic and not distracting, and it's always nice to see Romola Garai getting work (here as Dexter's rich, flighty girlfriend with the weird family).

The prettiness isn't enough to save it, though. Hathaway, an actor I like more than a lot of people I know who griped about her casting, is a major distraction in the first third because of her all-over-the-place accent and "Hollywood ugly." (In which beautiful woman + glasses + frizzy hair = not attractive.) More seriously, Sturgess and Hathaway have more chemistry on the poster above than they do in the entire movie. This is a highly personal judgment and maybe it has nothing to support it other than a feeling, but the needle, it doth not move.

And bigger than all that -- I predicted at some point that I would like this movie better than the book, and I was correct! But I'm not sure whether it was because what really rattled me about the book had already been spoiled for me before I got to the movie, so I didn't have to have that moment again. (I was looking for my review of it on here when I remembered that I had produced it back in January for a website that put me through 2 rounds of edits and then stopped returning my emails, of course not paying me for any of my time.) Yet even as I disliked the book there was a catharsis in it that the movie either doesn't try to attempt, or doesn't pull off. I felt a little sad at its end, and then I felt nothing, which was worse than feeling sad.

Filmbook verdict: When I walked out of this movie I was prepared to say, see the movie, don't read the book. But now I feel so tepid about the whole thing I'd say, don't bother.

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