Tuesday, August 23, 2011

685 - One Day review

There’s basically two kinds of in the movies. One sort ends happily, often with a kiss celebrating the fresh union of the characters. We don’t see the parts where they get old, feud, divorce, die, or any of life’s actual afflictions. The other kind leaves those parts in.

“One Day” falls into the latter category, and makes unusually good use of life’s more depressing moments. This is made more impressive by the fact that the film manages to stay moderate in tone, not delving deep into despair or treading too lightly.

The story told on one day, July 15, as it moves from 1988 to 2011. This device works as more than a gimmick, as it allows the plot to effectively avoid endless details about the characters’ lives, in addition to mandating a swift pace.

Its lovers are Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway), who in 1988 are just graduated from the University of Edinburgh. At first, they’re not lovers, but good friends, though we can predict what trajectory their relationship will take courtesy of a certain law of cinema: two very attractive people of opposite sexes must inevitably get together.

Most scenes represent a different year than all the others, but the script makes good use of these moments, allowing us to peer into their lives enough to get the picture. Dexter and Emma’s separate fortunes vary dramatically before they finally connect and equal one another. Dexter becomes a famous TV host right out the gate, though he’s the sort of grating TV personality whose enthusiasm and youth temporarily masks a shallow personality. He’s a decent man, but away from Emma, he gets worse.

She graduates and moves to London, hoping to be a poet. There, she finds the true calling of most educated writers, which is to be a waiter, then a teacher, once being a waiter becomes too tiresome. But sure enough, persistence at her craft eventually yields dividends, just as Dexter’s career implodes.

Sturgess proves to be the film’s best point, imbuing his initially arrogant character with an affability that makes his eventual travails that much more sad. Hathaway’s less interesting when alone, but she and Sturgess make a good screen pairing, both aptly attractive and with convincing chemistry. David Nicholls, adapting this screenplay from his own novel, knows the language of two people so profoundly correct for one another. Their conversations flow easily, with the undercurrents of emotion that are inevitable after a long relationship. Since we spend decades with these characters, its fortunate that they’re enjoyable to watch.

Perhaps most enjoyably, there’s some wisdom in the way its format shows how life can take us in sad, strange, unexpected directions. How many at 45 can say that they accurately predicted where life would take them at 22?

3 out of 5

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