Tuesday, September 6, 2011

If Only

I think my stalwart film sidekick Anne put it best when the final credits began rolling. She turned to me, eyes filled with wonder at being at the side of THE Mr. Anderson, and stated "I don't know what to think about that movie." That pretty much sums up my own thoughts on One Day, the newest romance film by Danish director Lone Scherfig. Scherfig, whose 2009 release An Education was a major success and was nominated for Best Picture at that year's Academy Awards, was but one attraction to the title, which was based on the bestselling novel by David Nicholls and stars talented performers Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in the leading roles. But I couldn't help but feel that there was much missing in the way of unique or significantly different story elements. In fact, heading into One Day felt like being uncertain whether to expect a genuine Italian buffet or a Las Vegas grease pit. Still, I've had some luck with romantic films this year (Something Borrowed being an obvious exception), and with the talent involved, I was at least looking forward to seeing this for the product that it was, rather than the expectations I could perceive.

Get used to seeing these two; there's hardly anyone else of note anywhere in the film
Beginning the day Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) meet at their college graduation, One Day follows their lives on the anniversary of that day for twenty years. Starting as an aborted romantic fling, the two become close friends, and the film lets us see their interaction one day a year for the entirety of the story. During this a number of successes and tragedies that fill their lives are followed, as both Emma and Dexter find their own paths towards contentment, love, and finally back to one another.

They studied make-outs at F.U.
Wow, that was a short paragraph. Try as I might, I can't think of anything more in depth to say about the film's plot, because what you see above is really all there is to it. Emma and Dexter are complete opposites, which is supposed to be a clear signal to us the audience that they are meant to be together, even if they themselves take forever to come to that same conclusion. The two are so different that they even take the opposite paths through their careers (Dexter has success early on while Emma struggles and later vice versa) before reaching true contentment, proving to me that perhaps this story was better in concept than execution. I've never read the book by Nicholls, but as he also wrote the screenplay I find myself unperturbed by any inclination to read the novel at all. It was a nice idea, but one that is poorly told by both the screenplay and the director Scherfig.

One Day, the awkward teen years
If there is any consolation, it is the acting of the film's two stars. Anne Hathaway's career seems to have faltered a little after her critical acclaim in 2008's Rachel Getting Married, and while she certainly never slacks off in her work, it's disheartening when she's either in bad movies (Bride Wars) or box office bombs (the underrated Love and Other Drugs) or stuck in bit parts that don't suit her (Alice in Wonderland). One major obstacle I thought I would have to overcome was Hathaway's attempt at a British accent, one that had shocked and distracted me during the trailers. Thankfully, she does a fine job with it, and what could have been a disaster is barely noticeable once you get used to the difference. Sturgess has been an unsung talent thus far, his films not receiving a lot of attention since his breakout in 2007's Across the Universe. Since then, I've seen a couple of films with him (21 and last year's The Way Back) but I don't claim to have the full measure of Sturgess as an actor yet. Still, he proves himself charming and a decent talent, showing a wider range than even Hathaway over the course of the story. If there's one problem with their performances, it's the fact that neither Emma nor Dexter are particularly likable characters. Dexter is shown to be such a douchebag that it's difficult to believe that Emma would remain friends with him for so long, and Emma is cursed with both a stick up her ass AND low self-esteem, which make her early whining hard to bear. Both Hathaway and Sturgess do their best, and are helped by a natural chemistry between them, but it's an uphill battle to make us care about the characters and their story, a fight they almost overcome.

Awww... isn't he a cute asshole?
Of course, these two dominate the screen so much that any supporting characters have to really stand out to be noticeable. The best of them is Patricia Clarkson, who over the past year has continually proven that she's got more versatility than most would credit her. As Dexter's sick mother she proves to be both a charmer and scene-stealer, and the best part of the film's early going. An assortment of perfectly okay performances from Rafe Spall, Ramola Garai and Ken Stott are ever present as additional characters for the leads to interact with, but since 90% of the film focuses exclusively on Emma and Dexter, their work is almost unnoticed unless they have something to do with a major plot change. Even then, it is the main characters that move forward, with these side bits barely registering a blip of interest on our radars.

Bad hair days for everyone!
The film's final act is as predictable as it is sad, and though it may inspire a few tears, it's hardly the stuff of legends. As I feared, there was decidedly little that the film offered as different from any other title in existence. With so many good titles having come out in 2011 and even more available for rent on DVD from decades past, there's no reason to waste good money on One Day unless you really, REALLY want to. The great acting aside, this title overall pales in comparison to Midnight in Paris or Crazy Stupid Love, and even fails to live up to the standards of Larry Crowne, as base a romantic comedy as you can get while still remaining entertaining. Failing to reach even this low threshold is disappointing, but for the most part this was not the biggest surprise. Anne said it right in that there are good and bad things about One Day; unfortunately for the film's stars it might take a few more to get where they truly belong in Hollywood's hierarchy.

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