Formula is not necessarily a bad device in a romantic dramedy, but it is still essential to develop lead characters that anyone actually cares about. The audience has to desperately want the lovers to get together, despite the obstacles. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with One Day, a film that has the musty flavor of a made-for-TV feature that ended up in multiplexes serving popcorn with fake butter.
Director Lone Scherfig, who made the excellent An Education regrettably believes that One Day is great offbeat romance, but bringing a guy and a girl together and having them cuddle and make goo-goo eyes at each other is hardly the basis of an interesting love story. One Day is based on David Nicholls’ novel of the same name, and stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as Emma and Dexter who meet each other for just one day each year on July 15 from 1988 through 2011. Gimmicky as the plot device is, Emma and Dexter’s lives entwine at college, then during their professional careers, and even during their various flings. Emma works in a Mexican restaurant and marries a comedian (Rafe Spall) whom she does not love, while Dexter becomes a TV host and settles for a wealthy woman (Romola Garai). Their complicated, simultaneously friendly, flirtatious and hostile relationship endures as they keep bumping into each other once every year. Unless you have never seen a romantic drama, you know how the story ends.
Hathaway and Sturgess are pleasing enough to look at, and they have some low-key appeal, but there's absolutely no evidence of anything reminiscent of a romantic spark between the two. If Emma and Dexter love each other, they do a fabulous job of hiding it. Hathaway struggles to shake off her American persona and speaks with a curiously, at times laughably fake British accent. In any case both Sturgess and Hathaway are let down by the unfocussed script, so it's hard to blame either of them for One Day’s failures. They do their best to remain interesting despite the shoddy material, and it never quite works.
Director Scherfig and writer Nicholls assume we are so familiar with the formula that they don't bother to develop the relationship between the leads. We're never once invested in Emma and Dexter’s interaction. One moment, they couldn’t care less for each other, and the next, they're in love despite being married to other people. It's something of a mystery how this transition occurs, since One Day never bothers to tell that part of the story. Instead, the film is too busy annoying us with irritating subplots featuring secondary characters like Dexter’s parents (Patricia Clarkson, Ken Scott). Even the big emotional payoff at the end is extremely predictable and ho-hum – it’s what makes this film a dull, flat and artificial love story.
First published in Mid Day