Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarckson, Romola Garai
Director: Lone Scherfig
We've reached the point that a significant portion of the English-speaking world - that bankrupt, riot-helmented, penalty-kick-blowing island named England - has reduced all acting to one thing - the ability to perfect the British accent.
The land of Olivier has ceased caring about things like sympathy, emotion, delivery, comic timing. They are only interested in an American's ability to speak in their certain way, as if the rest of us are somehow deficient. It raises the question: why don' they do the rest of the world a favor and start speaking like us?
The vitriol over Anne Hathaway's accent in One Day has been enough to ask the Archbishop of Caterbury to intervene. British fans of the 2009 David Nicholls novel wonder why Carey Mulligan wasn't chosen for the role of shy Emma (presumably the filmmakers want a few Americans to actually see it.) It's true, Hathaway's accent is a little dodgy, and it comes and goes. The rest of it she delivers pretty well in this literate romance.
Directed by Lone Scherfig as her follow-up to sort-of breakthrough An Education, One Day is relatively low-key affair. It prefers character development and relatively subtle shadings of dialogue (at least compared to the comedies of this summer) to build a genuine emotional base. The film even has one great scene, a frank mother-son discussion between Dex (Jim Sturgess) and his dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) that's incredibly tender.
Emma and Dex, the shy, studious girl and the registered heartbreaker, spend the night together after their college graduation on July 15, 1988. Emma's record player kills the romantic mood, spitting out Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' Bout a Revolution." The perils of late-80s political awareness.
The pair decides to be friends, and they join each other for each subsequent July 15 (for saints' fans, that's St. Swithin's Day). He meets quick career success, becoming a television presenter on an awesomely cheesy early 90s music show, but his fame overwhelms his life. She becomes a waitress, a teacher, and eventually a children's author. We navigate with them through their trials and successes until the inevitable crown of their relationship.
You can measure the tone of an era in several ways. Scherfig's feel for period detail of the 1990s, one of the best things about An Education, remains sure - dingy flats, combat boot fashion, sleek surfaces. She also captures the strangely matched impulses toward art, intellect, and integrity on one side and partying its tail off on the other. When Emma reads a book on a nude beach, it's Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That's exactly the book that that girl would be reading in that time and that place.
Does anyone really know why a romance works? I can observe good chemistry between the leads. I can say the peppered dialogue is a grade smarter than we usually get for romances, and the characters a grade deeper. I can say that One Day is so honest and roundly developed that you don't notice the conventions that it does indulge. When it finally goes for the big melodramatic moment, it feels like a violation, which is a measure of the film's overall success.