Some ideas simply work better on book pages, rather than on film where illogic is exposed. Like being a time traveler's wife or a spunky white girl treating black maids as equals in an era when that would likely get someone hurt. Or the conceit behind One Day, in which off-and-on lovers should wish that particular 24-hour period erased from the calendar.
Everything important happens to Emma and Dexter on the same day — July 15 — for 20 years running, and most of it is bad. What are the odds of that? And why don't they just pick that day annually to stay under the covers and let fate blow over? They could save themselves a soap opera's worth of stilted heartache, skipping the drug addiction, family issues, divorce, death and generic romantic hokum of David Nicholls' screenplay, based on his novel.
One Day is directed by Lone Scherfig, who fashioned the similarly British-toned An Education two years ago. Scherfig had a genuine English ingenue at the heart of that superior story; Carey Mulligan was an Oscar-nominated revelation. One Day has Anne Hathaway, who's too American pretty for the role of Emma as written, and struggling to sustain a British accent. Why it takes Dexter so long to commit to such a lovely woman (once she adopts a hairstyle and contact lenses) is a mystery. Too many July 15s along the way, I suppose.
Dexter feels authentic, with Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) providing the proper longing gazes and line deliveries for an English bounder turned better person by love. Dexter knew Emma in college but never noticed. They spent a chaste graduation night together — guess the date — and pledged eternal friendship without benefits. He went on to become the unctuous, hard-partying host of a late night TV show; she's serving diners in a Mexican restaurant in London.
His parents are subplots. Mum (Patricia Clarkson) has terminal cancer and Dad (Ken Stott) handles the parental disdain for how Dexter has turned out. They adore Emma, realizing she brings out the best in their son. Dexter careens in another direction, marrying a trophy (Romola Garai) and raising a daughter. Emma settles down with a pathetic stand-up comedian (Rafe Spall) until the right July 15 comes around.
Scherfig dutifully presents each of those days since 1988, offering viewers a countdown clock of sorts to the end credits. I'm partial to July 15, 1997, when all that happens is Emma swimming in a pool. I would suggest that viewers leave after 2007, before a terribly bleak occurrence that even Nicholls' readers protested, and a maudlin final-year denouement.
There are nicely tuned romantic moments in One Day, in the early going when Emma and Dexter are repressing their inevitable affections. That chastity pledge falls by the wayside during an amusing holiday in France, complete with skinny-dipping and stolen clothes. But the movie has the same problem as the budding couple; they're much better together than apart and there are just too many Julys in their future.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.