1 out of 4 stars
Simultaneously precious, twee, annoying, unsexy and depressing, "One Day" should be watched by every aspiring film student for the sole purpose of seeing how not to make a light-hearted romance.
Unlike two recent raunchy American comedies ("No Strings Attached," "Friends with Benefits"), "One Day" is a dour British production that pairs two beautiful young people with obvious sexual attraction and asks them to be platonic for the duration. Imagine "When Harry Met Sally " with bad lighting and no humor.
It's almost impossible to make Anne Hathaway look doughty, but director Lone Scherfig manages to pull it off regularly here. It's a far cry from Scherfig's stupendous last effort ("An Education" -- also set in England) where everything and everybody looked spectacular. Just looking at this movie's color-drained black and blue palate will bring you right down.
The premise itself makes little sense. It suggests that after barely knowing each other for the entirety of their college years, Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) resist a drunken, post-graduation one-night stand in 1988 and become the closest of friends. Using this non-event as a springboard, Scherfig and writer David Nicholls (adapting his own novel) revisit the couple sporadically over the next 20 years on the same day (July 15). It's all so pointlessly arbitrary. The only thing interesting about it is the multi-font graphics popping up as title cards announcing the day and year of the next scene.
One would think that part of the reason the filmmakers keep Hathaway in Plain Jane mode most of the time is to underscore the mousy and wishy-washy nature of her character. For reasons never given, Emma is sorely lacking in self-esteem and is convinced she'll never get a man and when she finally does, he's a major loser and she doesn't even really like him. Not believing in herself to such a strong degree transfers over to the audience whose early sympathy for her eventually drifts into apathy. It's not so much that we don't like Emma but if she doesn't care what happens to her why should we?
Dexter is on the other end of the personality extreme. Maintaining a clueless, frat-boy glibness for 90 percent of the film, he has no noticeable talent or skill and perpetually exudes a type of canned "charm" the majority of us would find grating and repelling. Again for reasons never explained this collection of negative personality quirks and disorders lands Dexter a plum gig as the host of a nonsense TV music/variety show which of course leads to the inevitable booze-and-drug fueled celebrity burnout.
If not liking the leads for equal yet polar opposite reasons wasn't enough, the filmmakers surround them with supporting characters that don't fare much better. The lone exceptions are a child that shows up far too late and Patricia Clarkson as Dexter's grounded mother who departs far too soon.
The final blow arrives in the form of a scene toward the end that comes from far out in left field and smacks the audience upside the head. It doesn't at all fit in with the rest of the story and transforms our mood from mildly displeased to borderline hateful. If there's such a thing as cinematic karma "One Day" won't last for more than a few days in theaters and will get mercifully yanked from circulation. (Focus Features)