Thursday, August 25, 2011

One Day

There's a drippy, utterly manufactured aura around One Day, Lone Scherfig's all wet romance based on the bestselling novel by David Nicholls (who wrote the screenplay as well), one that's cloying and manipulative, but also kind of a drag.  The great love stories, even ones (hell, especially ones) that end in heartache is the idea of a passionate and personal response and palpable relation to the fear and joy of first love.  That response, even in the wrong hands can send any sane man or woman into utter frenzy.  Then there's that other kind of love story, one that's so desperate for tears and moans of anguish, of the very unnatural, Love Story-variety that feels that it can get by on knee-jerk emotional gimmicks and that no matter the wobbliness or lack of sincerity of the storytelling, it will work because sad things happen.  One Day requests tears, it plays every trick to gut them out of you.  What's missing is interest.  The lovers are played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturges, both attractive, charming performances of high order and immense check bones, and while both perform adequately under an under-nourished script and sleepy direction, neither feel completely right or comfortable in their roles, and despite the films endless search for audience sobbing, the film is comes across too arbitrary, too incidental, and altogether too dreary.

The gimmick is clear, and perhaps even novel (it was shaped by one, and perhaps a fine one), we meet a young man and woman and chart their lives and relationship over one day over the course of twenty years.  It opens with the day our young, would-be, star-crossed lovers meet-- July 15, 1988, the day they both graduated from Oxford.  Dexter (Sturges) is a womanizing plutocrat for whom everything has come easily, perhaps mostly due to his check bones; he's also a bit of cad, and that trait comes more and more tiring as the film drags on.  Emma (Hathaway) is an inspiring writer, a dowdy, awkward chatterbox girl of middle class standing.  They meet in a drunken haze and decide to just be friends, only to spend the next day and next two decades pining and arguing and skirting around the issue that's obvious but hardly exciting: they're perfect for each other.  As the episodic journey goes onward, our would-be soul mates interact, fall for, and distance themselves from one another as seen through every July 15.  Dexter becomes a big shot (albeit arrogant bastard) television personality and enjoying sexual trysts with nearly everyone, while Emma hones her writing chops while working at a miserable Mexican restaurant and thwarting the advances of a dull wannabe stand-up comic.

However One Day read, it plays in such a soggy and inconsistent manner, it hard to ever really get a sense that we know Dexter or Emma at all.  Yearly glances are marked by hairstyle changes for Hathaway moreso than anything else, ah she's gotten a nice trim, things must be looking up-- shockingly in the span of twenty years (and perhaps medical science should get a hold of whatever these love birds were on), neither of them appear to age at all.  But more importantly, and what ultimately kills the film from generating the tears it so richly wants is that the mundane and supposed to be heartfelt moments are staged in the same arbitrary, whatever manner, like falling in love is not at all a big deal.  Like in her last feature, An Education, Scherfig seems to want to come off subtle, with the hope that grand romance will resonate more deeply through quietness, and while laudable, it's almost non-existent in One Day.  What An Education had going for it was a lived-in sense of world on the move weary-ness, that the quiet will soar into revolution-- even then, though, the romance itself was the phoniest thing about the film.  One Day is too soft, too quiet (though it features a far more talky script) and too passive to garner any steam.  Part of that is the fault of pacing...each year feels longer and longer as the film goes on, and part of the that is due to casting.

For instance, the gifts of Hathaway, which are many, are very reasons she's not quite right for the role of Emma.  Hathaway, the actress and movie star is charming and pretty, flirtatious and glamorous-- she's one of the few young starlets that recalls the movie stars of yore, based on timing, gamesmanship, and surprising depth (when she feels the need to show it, perhaps an actress' greatest asset.)  Yet for the first act of One Day, she's stuck in ugly duckling role, one that's hard to buy (it was hard to by even when she was in The Princess Diaries ten years ago), awaiting her time to turn into a swan.  One of the laziest gestures of the film is that Hathaway's dowdier beginning are physically marked by bad hair and a pair of glasses...it's funny, even the shiniest advances in movie-making magic and prosthesis and gadgetry, the best the filmmakers could come up with a way for Anne Hathaway to look frumpy was to put a pair of glasses on her.  Her accent is a little shaky as well.  In truth, it wouldn't have mattered, for in reality she would have ate up the narcissism of Sturges' Dexter any day.  For Sturges' credit, he too is a fine and capable young actor, but the script serves him no favors by making him a complete ass for the majority of the film, and there's a prolonged drunken binge on his characters part that feels like a different film altogether, even one that's so earnestly harvesting tears from every end.  And that's not even mentioning Dexter's cancer-ridden mom, played with her Americana-infused British-ness by Patricia Clarkson, or the twister that end this romantic dud.  D+

1 comment:

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