ONE DAY is an unconventional love story told in an unconventional style. The conceit of dropping in on them once a year on St. Swithins Day (July 15) to check their rocky progression from the 1980s through to the 21st century is as arch and penetrating as it is effective in stripping the story of any trace of flabby exposition and getting to the heart of the infinite complexity of relationships. Events piled on events are less important than the neat summation from year to year of where Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) stand in relation to themselves and one another.
It begins in 1988 as the two graduate from college and fall drunkenly into one anothers arm. Its less impersonal than it sounds, at least for Emma, though events prevent them from sealing the deal, as it were. They decide to become friends, the which they do with a fervent devotion that survives miscues, cross-purposes, third-parties, and the ebb and flow of their fortunes. Its obvious, even to them, that they are soul mates, but of what specific variety eludes them as Emma waits for Dexter to grow up, and Dexter waits for Emma to find her inner worth. Its not an easy wait, and there is at no time any guarantee of a happy ending. Dexter discovers the allure of the blonde girlfriend; Emma discovers the mixed blessings of surrendering to Ian (Rafe Spall), the desperately unfunny stand-up comedian (Rafe Spall) who makes himself far too emotionally available and cant believe his luck when it seems to pay off.
Written for the screen by David Nicholls, from his novel of the same name, the script reflects its literate origins. Its intelligent without being self-conscious, using telling details and witty wordplay, such as Emma describing the smell of her shabby first London flat as that of onions and disappointment. The excellent writing is illuminated by equally excellent performances. Hathaway evincing a ferocious honesty and growing strength beneath the vulnerability of Emmas self-deprecating bon mots, Sturgess finds the sweetness at odds with itself in Dexters boorishness, not just with Emma, but with his Dexters disapproving father (Ken Stott) and gentle mother (Patricia Clarkson), whose unconditional love for her son doesnt wear blinders. Spall brings a vivid complexity to Ian, making clear his palpable understanding that he and Emma are wrong for each other, but is, nonetheless, unable to resist the temptation to try. Its the perfect tragic counterpoint to the soul mates misconnecting, and by comparison, makes those misses all the more wrenching.
ONE DAY is a love story that redefines what perfect timing is. Unblemished by soggy sentiment, it is nonetheless a film with a full, voracious heart tempered with a surprisingly clear head when it comes to romance. Funny, tragic, droll, and very, very smart, its the thinking persons love story.