By pretty much anybody’s evaluation, Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) is a jerk. He’s cocky and full of himself, a ladies’ man with appallingly low standards for bedmates (“breathing” seems to be the main qualification he seeks). He’s not dumb, but his ambition in terms of career centers largely on a ill-defined desire for fame. Many of his issues can be attributed to privilege, youth and an almost pathological revulsion toward thinking serious thoughts, factors that might fade if he matures. But during his young adulthood, even his mum thinks he’s something of a tool.
Whether the Nick Hornbyesque manboy Dex will ever grow up is a concern to his best friend Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway), who is not-so-secretly in love with him but also unwilling to sacrifice their friendship for what is sure to be a thoughtless roll in the hay. She understands there’s someone of value under Dex’s pretty, arrogant exterior, but she’s not a fool. She can’t quite banish him from her life and so goes about adjusting to the ups and downs of adulthood anyway.
Efficiently adapted for the screen by David Nicholls from his bestselling novel, One Day follows the lives of Dex and Em, specifically what happens to them every July 15 for almost 20 years. The conceit was much easier to pull off in print, what with chapters and time and space to linger over the connections that keep these two characters close over the years.
Director Lone Scherfig (An Education) doesn’t have such luxury, but she infuses her snapshots of their relationship with humor and poignancy. The film is mostly made up of deftly drawn character sketches as Dex and Em bicker, vacation together, find new careers, fall in love with other people and manage to stay friends throughout. Mostly.
Hathaway, of course, is far more gorgeous than the modestly attractive Em should be, but Scherfig even manages to make her briefly frumpy (note to fans of the book: Remember that a movie also tried to make us believe Renee Zellweger was a few pounds overweight in Bridget Jones’s Diary). The fact that she doesn’t sit around and wait for Dexter to wake up to the inevitable keeps her from seeming pathetic. Sturgess has an even trickier part; he has to be charming enough for the audience to buy into Emma’s hopes that he’ll be a decent man even when he’s saying appalling things or mistreating her but not so disarming that we don’t see he has a long way to go.
Watching One Day, you’ll assume that Dex and Em will end up together. This is a movie, after all. But while he gives in to some expectations, Nicholls thwarts a few here: One Day turns out to be less about enjoying a traditional happy ending than an admonishment to stop wasting time, get on with the business of living and enjoy every single moment with the ones you love.
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ian Spall.
Director: Lone Scherfig.
Screenwriter: David Nicholls; based on his novel.
Producer: Nina Jacobsen.
A Focus Features release. Running time: 108 minutes. Sexual content, partial nudity, language, some violence and substance. Opens Friday Aug. 19 at area theaters.