One way to sidestep the pitfalls inherent in adapting a beloved novel: hire the author to pen the screenplay.
Yet while David Nicholls’ bestseller is already cinematic, with its snapshot structure and sparkling dialogue, his adap lifts scenes with their internal monologue inevitably lost. What’s left is a simple and effective love story that never gets too far beneath the surface.
Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are Emma and Dexter, who meet on the eve of their graduation in 1988. She’s spiky and smart, he’s languid and cocky; but these opposites attract and, after a near-miss one-night stand, they develop a semi-platonic friendship.
The narrative returns to them on the same July day of each year thereafter, tracking their separate progress and shifting dynamic through ’90s London.
You never fully understand Emma’s devotion to the callow Dexter, but thanks to Hathaway and Sturgess’ easy chemistry, you never need to, their pure enjoyment of one another established swiftly by director Lone Scherfig.
Hathaway has clearly attended the Michael Fassbender School of Mix ‘n’ Match Accents – broad Yorkshire to RP within scenes – but she brings a vulnerable edge to her prickly character.
Sturgess has the tougher role – the hedonistic ne’er-do-well – and he’s ill served by the otherwise laboriously faithful script, which largely jettisons his character’s darker, drug-abusing shades. Thanks to Sturgess’ charisma you still feel for him despite his lack of dimension, not least in one wrenching scene with his ailing mother.
One Day isn’t a story about big moments – it’s about the almost-moments, the near misses, the wasted years. But the same-day-each-year device falters on screen, because there’s so little time to establish what’s changed in each new timeframe.
By the time they finally sort themselves out – after divorces, babies, failed careers – we’ve missed too many crucial moments in their relationship to really rejoice.
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Much of Nicholls’ sharp dialogue and emotional truth remains intact, but the over-faithful translation does little to compensate for what can’t be lifted from the page.