|Worth seeing:||as an arch an decidedly cack-handed attempt to bring a romantic best-seller to the big-screen that could have been made in just one day|
|Featuring:||Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Georgia King, Jodie Whittaker, Ken Stott, Patricia Clarkson, Rafe Spall, Romola Garai|
|Released:||24th August 2011|
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
It’s the 15th of July, 2006 and Emma (Anne Hathaway) is riding her bike through London.
We flash back 18 years to the day and by seeing what happens in her life on this date in each interim year, we uncover the mystery as to how she came to be riding a bicycle, all those years later. Gripping. OK, so clearly, that isn’t actually the big event that the bulk of the film is leading up to as would be suggested by this oft-used structure; the film-makers just don’t seem to understand how to use the cinematic trick of starting with a flash-forward: it has to be exciting and leave you asking questions.
Anyway, the first time we meet her, Emma is hooking up with her secret crush Dexter (Jim Sturgess) after a night out celebrating their graduation from Edinburgh University. The following year, he’s helping her move into a new flat in London, before she starts waitressing at a tapas bar and he leaves for a finding-himself pre-career break.
In the years that follow, they fall in and out of love with other people, fighting off a mutual attraction, as wealthy and cocky TV presenter Dex can’t bring himself to like frumpy restaurant worker and aspiring children’s author Em as anything more than a best friend
He has issues with his parents and a problem with drink and takes her somewhat for granted, while she suffers from insecurity and an inability to reach her true potential or reel in her true love.
They each travel through unsuccessful relationships, struggle with personal, emotional and professional difficulties and even face challenges in their own friendship – but over all these years, the one constant thing in their lives is each other.
And eighteen years to the day after they meet, she rides a bicycle through London.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
The book of the same name by David Nicholls was a best seller. David Nicholls adapted his own novel into a screenplay, so what went so catastrophically wrong?
Are all the readers misguided or is it just a subject – or structure – that doesn’t transfer well from the page to the screen?
The structure is certainly the catalyst for its failure. It’s called One Day. It’s about one day – the same date every year. But while the whole point of the film is to chart this couple’s story, one day a year, it’s simply too contrived and gimmicky to ring true.
It’s just not at all believable that so many key moments in the lives of an individual – let alone a couple – would happen on the same day of the year. It might be a quaint device, but it’s simply too arch. Of course it’s fiction, but in most films, there are one or two things that you might be prepared to put down to artistic licence; in this film, it’s every scene.
And to make it even more clunky, of course there are significant events that happen on other days, but by definition, we don’t see them, so certain scenes require expositional dialogue to tell us what we might have missed over the previous year; “Remember the last time we saw each other, when you came to visit and we kissed, but it was because we felt sorry for each other rather than because we were genuinely in love? Well…”
Having young actors of about 30 playing characters who age from about 20 to 40 is also a problem. Emma’s hair is long, short, bobbed, dyed – his stubble varies similarly. It’s too visually obvious.
Another big cinematic problem with this one-day-a-year structure is that we never get to see the gradual growth and development of these characters, which often results in people doing things that – according to how we saw them a year earlier – seem completely out of character.
Then there’s the casting – according to the book and indeed to make his difficulty in falling for her more believable – Emma is meant to be a frumpy, working class Yorkshire lass, but while she makes a stab at an English accent, which comes and goes at random, there’s no suggestion that it’s meant to be pegged to Yorkshire and Anne Hathaway frumpy? Really?
Now, no disrespect at all to the astonishingly talented Carey Mulligan, but why on earth did Lone Scherfig, who directed her so effectively in An Education, not cast her again this time? I’m guessing she’d have made a more convincing Yorkshire lass, at the very least.
And while I’m on the subject of nationality – not that I’m a stickler for casting British actors to play British characters, after all, that’s what acting is for – was Patricia Clarkson really the most suitable choice to play Dex’s upper-class middle aged Mum – don’t we have enough of our own Dame Helens and Judis for roles like that?
Casting Hathaway and Clarkson, you wonder why they didn’t just go along with one of the earlier production ideas and transfer the whole story to the US.
It’s a surprise to find that this film feels so cack-handed given Scherfig’s position at the helm, but just nothing about it feels right. When Dex and Em are in different relationships, we never feel that they’re comfortable – their partners are little more than stereotypes – the geeky failed comedian – the spoilt rich-girl – the perfect Parisian – and so on.
The characters behave as if according to a script, often appearing to be almost surprised that they’re required to do this or that, because there’s just no way a real person what take that course of action in the world we know. The final scene in Paris – a key scene for the plot – just seems so arbitrary as to do the impossible and make your stomach turn at the thought of one of the world’s most romantic cities. The book fares better here – and elsewhere – possibly because it’s not constrained by the same time limit and books are more forgiving of exposition.
I’ve already touched on one of the film’s greatest crimes; starting with a flash-forward that tells us nothing and gives us nothing to look forward to or wonder about. It would’ve been less off-putting to tell the story chronologically, as is done in the book.
Because the story is so contrived and the characters so arch, there’s no real sense of what the film is actually about – we don’t learn anything about the nature of life and love. There seems to be no message more profound than “sometimes the person for you is right under your nose and you don’t realise.”
And what’s worse – perhaps the biggest crime of all – is that it gets the mood completely wrong. It takes itself far too seriously, thinks it’s far more profound than it is, it’s not as funny, sweet or dramatic as it should be and where it starts to push any of these buttons, it feels forced.
It’s a shame to have to say this, because as individual characters, both Dex and Em are likeable enough and you just want them to get a wiggle on and work it out, as you know that’s where it’s heading (if you’ve seen the poster), but it takes a long time to get to where it has to go, and then (if you’ve read the book) you’ll know your patience isn’t even rewarded.
It’s a disappointingly cackhanded drama that’s just not a particularly satisfying experience, emotionally or narratively.
Most films take a good few years to make, but you get the feeling that from the moment David Nicholls decided that his book might make a good film, the whole production process was knocked off in one day.