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HomeBlogPopcorn Parent Movie ReviewsMovie Review: One Day (PG-13)

Movie Review: One Day (PG-13)

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Length: 108 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Age Appropriate for: 15+. Your typical romantic drama stuff, such as some nudity (mainly people’s butts, at a scene set on a nude beach) and implied sex scenes; excessive alcohol and drug use; some characters’ deaths; and cursing, but only one use of the f-word. It’s mature thematically, however, so don’t expect a wham-bam romantic comedy that leaves the characters’ fates up to your happy imagination.

You think that people would have had enough of silly love movies? You would have thought wrong (Paul McCartney knows this!). ‘One Day’ is just the right kind of weepy romance to round out the summer.

By Roxana Hadadi

I’m a sucker for weepy romantic dramas, so “One Day” has basically everything I’ve ever wanted. Jim Sturgess, a dreamy Brit with a charming accent? Check. A rollercoaster love story that keeps its main characters more apart than together? Of course. Saccharine dialogue that will stick in my head forever, much like Ryan Gosling’s “I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day,” speech from “The Notebook”? Of course! Now pass the Kleenex.

If you’ve read the 2009 same-named novel by David Nicholls, you should be pleased by this adaptation, which generally sticks to that story. (Nicholls also wrote “Starter for 10,” which was adapted into a film in 2006 and starred James McAvoy, of this summer’s great “X-Men: First Class.”) Described most simply, “One Day” is a class-spanning love story, with rich boy Dexter (Sturgess) and working-class Emma (Anne Hathaway) coming together July 15, 1988, the night of their graduation from Edinburgh University; the story then checks in on them on that same day for the next 20 or so years. Sometimes they’re together and sometimes they’re apart, but there’s always something — nostalgia? affection? lust? — that keeps pulling them toward one another.

“One Day” is mostly straightforward, introducing Dex and Emma on that graduation day: She has frizzy hair, huge glasses and a crush on Dex; he’s slick in a designer suit and smooth with his lines on her, even though he can’t remember that they’ve met numerous times before. They almost end up in bed together but decide to be friends instead, beginning a relationship that seems to go against each of their personalities.

Emma wants to be a writer, penning poetry or short stories that will change the world, while Dex wants simply to be rich and famous, no matter in what job. As she moves to London, takes a job at a Tex-Mex restaurant and starts seeing her dreams escape away from her, he travels around the Europe and Asia, jumping from bed to bed. In 1990, Emma is still stuck at the restaurant, a “graveyard of ambition,” while Dex is teaching English in Paris and seducing young, beautiful co-eds. In 1992, he convinces her to go on vacation with him, but as they drive to a beach in France, she’s quick to lay down ground rules about nudity and sex — there will be neither, even though they’re both attracted to each other. A year later, in 1993, he’s a television success, a late-night host with a revolving array of model girlfriends, while Emma is in a relationship with restaurant co-worker Ian (Rafe Spall), an aspiring standup comedian who can’t ever make her laugh.

But all good things can’t last — of course it’s clear that Dex’s career will be short-lived — and a beautiful girl like Emma would never be totally hopeless, so in years to come their fortunes change in various ways. In the beginning the two constantly talk on the phone or get together, knowing important details about each others’ lives, but how long can this friendship really go on? For some years, there’s no contact at all; during others, they simply think about or remember each other. It’s the film’s greatest strength that it’s able to create so much character development and emotion from those scenes, when Dex and Emma aren’t physically in each others’ presence but only in their memories.

A lot of that success comes from director Lone Scherfig’s handling of the story, which was adapted for the movie by Nicholls himself. Scherfig previously directed 2009’s “An Education,” which starred British actress Carey Mulligan as a teenager involved in a relationship with an older man (Peter Sarsgaard), a pairing that teaches her more mature lessons than she ever expected. That film benefited not just from Mulligan’s standout performance but also from Scherfig’s slow, steady directing style. It took time for us to know Mulligan’s and Sarsgaard’s characters, why they were drawn to each other and how they were doomed, and there’s a similarly slow build in “One Day.” It’s impressive that the story’s linear quality works even when the characters are seen only one or two days each year, and while “One Day” of course forays into will-they-or-won’t-they territory, the end story for these characters is more dramatic and realistic than you’d expect.

Praise should go to Hathaway and Sturgess, too, who don’t overact the melancholy, pining or pain needed for a story of this emotional weight. Hathaway sometimes seemed too overbearing in her previous romantic drama, “Love and Other Drugs,” but here she’s the right mix of romantic and sensible, with ambitions that are too often trampled down by the outside world. Her sarcasm and dry wit, constant defense mechanisms, are well-timed, since she never tries to steal scenes with her humor; it’s just another part of her overall girl-right-under-your-nose character. (And while Hathaway’s British accent isn’t so hot, it grows on you.)

Really, though, this film excels because of Sturgess: He’s so cocky, charming, confident and lonely that his later fall is that much more exquisite, and here he brings to mind the pain and trauma he deftly handled in 2007’s Beatles-inspired film “Across the Universe” and 2010’s “The Way Back.”

“One Day” suffers from some of the same problems all romantic dramas do, such as the formulaic nature of the main characters getting together, falling apart and getting together again, and too many scenes linger on meaningful glances and knowing looks. Those grievances aside, though, the film is subtle and memorable, weightier than the typically sexually charged romance and more original than a run-of-the-mill tearjerker. “One Day” is worth one of yours.

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