Two deeply unlikeable people drag out a flirtation-filled friendship across some three decades in One Day, an insufferable movie that unfolds at a glacial pace.
Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) meet in college, when Emma is a spazzy prudish killjoy and Dexter is a drunken cad. After hanging out with a group of friends the night of their graduation, the pair nearly have sex but don’t and become “friends” instead. Emma likes Dexter more than she lets on; Dexter likes Emma more than he knows. As the years go by and they fumble through their post-college lives, Emma becomes even more bitter and joyless, while Dexter becomes an even bigger drunkard and ladies’ man. He comes from a wealthy family so his years of finding himself — some time in India, some time in Paris — are more glamorous than Emma’s years as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant in London as she tries to become a writer.
Though their relationship — letters, visits, phone calls — continues throughout the years, we check in with them on one day, July 15, the day they first hung out, over the years. We see Emma begin a relationship with a wet napkin of a man named Ian (Rafe Spall) and land a job as a teacher. Dexter has relationships with oodles of women as he becomes a fairly famous TV-show host. But his drinking gets in the way of his fame and his career starts to go downhill, making him an even more awful coke-addled wreck of a human being.
Emma and Dexter like each other and come close to coupleness a few times but each time one or the other ruins the chance by being particularly awful. They each have successes — Emma writes a popular children’s book and moves to Paris; Dexter is married and has a daughter. They have heart aches too, like Emma’s inability to move past the relationship with Dexter and the death of Dexter’s mother (Patricia Clarkson, whose role is way too small). Through it all, Emma is a terrifying mirror, a dose of harsh reality, for every girl who uses sarcasm as a defense and Dexter is a jerk. In a better movie, Dexter might have been one of those characters who is deeply flawed but charming. Here, he’s just an odious sleaze you want to punch on the nose.
The one-day gimmick results in a lot of choppiness, scenes that feel unfinished and characters that we really never get to know. We hear about things that happened — this weekend together or that success — but we don’t see them occur, so we’re getting a summary of the interesting stuff and an achingly slow enactment of so much dreary angst.
In this kind of romance — one with a lot of struggle and very little charm or comedy — liking the characters is important — it makes you root for them and care about their story. Here, all I rooted for was the movie to end. D
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity, language, some violence and substance abuse. Directed by Lone Scherfig with a screenplay by David Nicholls (from a novel, also by Nicholls), One Day is an hour and 47 minutes long and is distributed by Focus Features.