One Day tracks the crisscrossing fates of two good-looking people from 1988, when they are newly fledged, happily drunken university graduates, to a point just short of the present, which is to say middle age for them. The movie’s conceit, embedded in the title, is that all of the depicted action takes place, from one year to the next, on a single date, July 15.
Being British, the two main characters — their names are Emma and Dex, and they are played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess — identify that square on the calendar as St Swithin’s Day, which their American Gen-X counterparts may be more likely to know from the lovely, lovelorn Billy Bragg song of the same name.
Though it was adapted from a best-selling novel (by David Nicholls, who wrote the screenplay), One Day is less a conventional story than a mixtape.
This does not strike me as entirely an accident, or a wayward interpretation on my part. Nor is it entirely a bad thing. The fondly pirated compilation of moods and messages gleaned from vinyl and committed to cassette may be the emblematic artifact of the generation to which Emma and Dex belong. And as it traces the orbit of their devoted friendship and almost-love, One Day turns an episodic story into an anthology of feelings and associations, many familiar, a few surprising, some embarrassing and one or two worth holding onto.
This makes it tricky to judge the film, directed by Lone Scherfig, as a whole, but easy to enjoy it in pieces.
One Day traffics in the same breezy Anglo-ness as Four Weddings and a Funeral, finding charm in London’s gray weather and gentle comedy in the residue of the class system. It also has three weddings and two funerals, though most of the rites take place off screen.
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Anne Hathaway (Emma), Jim Sturgess (Dexter), Patricia Clarkson (Alison), Ken Stott (Steven), Romola Garai (Sylvie), Rafe Spall (Ian)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
As does nearly everything in Emma and Dex’s lives. Now and then something momentous happens on July 15, but for the most part it is an ordinary day, and we glimpse only a piece of it, the year signaled by numerals on the screen. Some years are skipped over altogether, and others are indicated by a few seconds of actions: an unanswered phone call; a dive into a swimming pool. When we do linger with Emma and Dex, separately or together, some discreet exposition catches us up on what we need to know.
It starts in a rush of youthful sexual ardor, as the two of them, thrown together after a night out with friends, tumble back to Emma’s room as dawn approaches. Though they will remember this not-quite tryst as a “near miss,” it cements an affection that waxes and wanes over the years. Will they at last become lovers or allow their connection to lapse, awaiting the invention of Facebook?
This simple question generates quite a bit of curiosity and suspense, but One Day is at its best — observant, relaxed, touching and charming — when the central couple are apart. As they make their way through professional ups and downs and serious relationships with other people, the movie opens up and allows its attention to wander into odd corners and byways.