One Day (2011) – Film Review

We drop in on Em and Dex on the same day for twenty years...

David Nicholls’ best-selling sensation One Day has been given an eagerly anticipated silver screen makeover this summer and the celluloid adaptation struggles as much as the book’s die-hard fans would expect. Rarely do successful novels translate well onto the big screen and rarer still do they live up to the standards set by their print counterparts and, unfortunately, One Day suffers in this way.


Spread across 20 years, One Day tells the story of Emma ‘Em’ Morley and Dexter ‘Dex’ Mayhew who meet on their graduation night before going their separate ways into the big wide world. As their lives follow very different paths post-University, the audience are shown a snippet of their lives and their friendship as we follow Em and Dex on every anniversary of their meeting, 15th July 1988.

Showing a relationship which holds all the peaks and troughs of love, life and loss, One Day is a tale of how easy it is to take for granted the people in our lives and of truly seizing the day with the ones you love but sometimes don’t appreciate. However, with a word of caution, for those who are duped into believing this is another ‘Will they? Won’t they? They inevitably always do’ insipid ‘love’ story, should be warned – trashy ‘Chick Lit’ this is not, and the finale is not for the faint-hearted.

The novel sets a high bar for any adaptation and sadly, it is a stretch too far for this feature. The film in its entirety is not dislikeable by any stretch of the imagination and there have been much worse cinematic re-imaginings. This is mainly due to the author’s insistence that he be responsible for producing the screenplay.

Having invested so much time in crafting what critics have termed ‘a modern masterpiece’, Nicholls was understandably reticent to allow someone else loose with Em and Dex, meaning that the majority of original content which makes it into the film has been accurately crafted down to the clothes on their backs. This is not to say that, where necessary, Nicholls hasn’t allowed for some artistic deviations in order to not bog the narrative down in detail.

However, with a page count well into the 400’s, it is inevitable that not everything would make it into the 108 minute running time. Although Nicholls has endeavoured to squeeze as much of the source material into the screenplay, the final cut of One Day struggles to accommodate all the character insights and inner monologues that readers are treated to. This leaves an engaging narrative but with less emotional accessibility to the characters.

For all the criticism of Anne Hathaway’s wandering accent (seemingly jumping regional and national borders within single speeches), she eloquently portrays an Em with which the audience can empathise throughout her unrequited infatuation.

However, the Em readers are greeted with is described as an average girl who does well for herself as well as managing to be largely unappreciated by Dex whose eye is largely caught by anything under a size 10. Although attempts are made, wire-rim glasses and scraped back hair do little to disguise Hathaway’s physical attributes early on and fail to encapsulate the normal ‘Bridget Jones’ style character the book implies.

Largely overshadowing Hathaway is Jim Sturgess as the not-so-likeable Dex. Confident to the point of over-arrogance Dex lives a charmed life with early and easily garnered success before realising too late that life has passed him by in a whir of drink and drugs. It is also during this period that Dex realises that the people who have stood by him are the people he has treated worst of all.

Throughout the book, Dex cuts a loathsome figure before being a character the audience genuinely sympathises with and Sturgess brilliantly manages to show both these sides of the flawed character Nicholls has crafted. His meltdown as his mother becomes ill is particularly poignant as we see Dex dealt the crushing blow that sometimes all the success and luck in the world are not enough for you to hold on to everything you care about and Sturgess handles this awakening with expert poise.

The supporting cast also lend capable hands, notably Ken Stott as Dex’s father Steven. Stott powerfully portrays two crucial scenes whilst trying to keep Dex from going completely off the rails as he grieves for his loved ones.

As a stand alone film, One Day is more than the average chick flick it may appear to be at first glance. Instead, it is a powerful and poignant look at the relationships we nurture over the years and how easy it is to forget the people who help the most. However, sadly, the original novel overshadows the film with its ability to emotionally tie the audience into the characters and not be restricted by a running time which needs to fly through twenty years. One Day is another book and film partnership where it is worth investing the time in the print version rather than trying to get the full effect within two hours of screen time.

Best performance: Jim Sturgess – True star of the show. Plays Dex’s youthful naivety and fatal flaws to a tee.
Best scene: Dex’s visit to his ailing mother produces a lump in the throat that borders in a choking hazard.
Best line: ‘I love you Dexter. So much. I just don’t like you any more.’

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