Wednesday, 7 September 2011

One Day

2011. Dir: Lone Scherfig. Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Rafe Spall and Ken Stott. ●●●○○

One Day is a beloved book. David Nicholl's 2009 romantic novel spent an age at the top of the best-selling lists, won the 2010 Galaxy book of the year and inspired dozens of books clubs to cluck over the changing fortunes of Em and Dex. I hated it, but it succeeds at what it tries to achieve.

The 2011 page to screen adaptation has crashed and burnt on the international box office, taking just $21m so far in global sales and failing to even achieve the number one spot in the UK. Fans of the novel have nitpicked over every details, loathing the cuts and despairing of Anne Hathaway's accent. I liked it, but it fails to hits it's goals.

I say all this to illustrate the massive gap between the written word and cinematic art, between our expectations of literature of film, between each patrons empathy and understanding of the characters and situations presented. Or one man's meat is another man's poison.

The central conceit of the novel is that it follows our soulmates over 20 anniversaries of their first meeting, catching up with their trials and tribulations by presenting their thoughts on each St. Swithin's Day between 1988 and 2008. In the novel there is political and cultural parallels to the death of yuppieism and disillusionment with New Labour which are jettisoned for the film and replaced with sly commentary on changing fashion and technological advances (curiously though Emma local swimming baths remain freakishly unchanged for the majority of the films running time, no neo-facist supergym identity or slide concessions there).

Although plenty of experience of romantic comedy staples will ensure all readers/viewers are keenly aware Em and Dex are meant to be together they both drift aimlessly away from each other for the majority of the novel, delving into increasingly unsuitable relationships and experiencing alternating highs and lows of personal and professional success. Only in the final reel when Dex has had fatherhood thrust upon him and Em finds hidden layers in confidence through her children's novels can either character grow up and admit to the mutual attraction and the necessary compromises and strains in any relationship. In the novel we get an insight into the motivations of the central couple, experience their inner monologues each year to feel their yearning, and yet oddly it's only in the film that I fully appreciated the relationship had to wait for 17 years before it had a ghost of a chance of succeeding, that until then it would have failed.

That success lies in the casting of the central couple. Anne Hathaway has form playing the intelligent girl refusing to trade on her looks (Devil Wears Prada, to some extent Love and Other Drugs), and indeed she doesn't disappoint, underplaying the caustic Em and allowing the vulnerability to shine through. (To address the elephant in the room the accent was fine, inconsistent but only in a "I have a regional accent that I'm ashamed of" way which worked in the context of a de-politicised movie but would not have been the accent of the Trotskyite anti-war demonstrator we have in the novel). Sturgess too is on top form, humanising the frankly ghastly Dexter, a character I despised in the novel, his haunting eyes remind us through the 'Largin' It' period of ultra-excess that underneath the coke-snorting swagger there's a little boy who's lost his ability to communicate with real people.

Rafe Spall is also deservedly picking up plaudits as Emma's long term boyfriend Ian, a failed stand-up with a manic desire to please and an instinctive shuffling presence. Although like in the novel there's little explanation to why the couple ended up settling for each other as both seem to be aware there's no future in the relationship. Ken Stott also does a fine job as Dex's father, stand-offish and decidedly British the one to one he has with Dex at the end is knowing and full of acceptance of their shared experiences.

Why then, if the performances are generally so good, does this film fail? It's purely because Nicholl's has adapted it from his highly acclaimed book. Being keenly aware of the fans delight in seeing their favourite scenes and hearing their favourite quotes he over-indulges their fantasies retaining the idealised language and packing in the most delicious incidents. And whilst pronouncements such as "If I could give you just one gift, do you know what it would be? Confidence. That or a scented candle." or "I love you, Dex, so much. I just don't like you anymore." are just as delightful on the screen as you would hope the average five and a bit minutes per year gets exhausting. By messing with the timelines and reducing the number of visits, as sacrilegious as that sounds, might has eased that tension. Really what was the point of playing "Where are you Moriaty?" without any understanding of the rules or context of the game, except to please the hardcore fans, and when a year is reduced to three strokes in the pool you have to wonder why it was worth even putting up the graphic.

Spoilers in the net paragraph - I couldn't think of another way of explaining my dislike of one one plot element.

I also have a big problem with the ending of the film, no not 2006 with it's crushing inevitability, but the storyline that links 05 to 06, given the lack of time spent on Em's maternal ambitions and the weight of the final conclusion it seems like a faked pass in very poor taste.

Spoilers over now.

Lone Scherfig directs with the same crisp detachment that she made An Education but without the purposeful plot of her previous films more was needed to keep the audience engaged.

Overall whilst One Day is nice enough and a passable way to spend a lazy afternoon it can only really be considered as a disappointment to the legion of book-lovers to whom this adaptation was squarely aimed.

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