The gimmick of “One Day,” which covers two decades, is that everything we witness takes place on July 15, St. Swithin’s Day, each year.
It’s the day acquaintances Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) get to know each other just as they are leaving college in Edinburgh. And, via the structure of novelist-screenwriter David Nicholls, we keep checking in with these two lovebirds as they spend years denying the fact that they obviously want to be together.
Obnoxious, substance- abusing Dexter (no wonder Emma loves him, right?) becomes mildly famous as a variety-show presenter on British television. But surely he will one day realize that his life of cocaine and supermodels is empty and shallow.
Emma goes through a mousy phase but eventually finds her writing voice. Much quicker with a wisecrack and kinder of heart than Dexter, she makes you wonder why she’d still be thinking about this heel after all these years.
I can see how a novel could skip from year to year and have time to give these characters some richness and heft. The movie, unfortunately, needs to squeeze 20 years’ worth of scenes into 108 minutes, which means we skip along all too quickly in most of the segments.
“One Day” is the first dud from the Danish director Lone Scherfig, who did “An Education” and the wonderful “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.” The quick-stepping structure makes it hard for Scherfig to establish a sense of place, which is one of her strengths, although Edinburgh looks very lovely in the opening and closing sequences.
Worse, Scherfig’s touch with the two lead performers is off. I don’t have a beef with the casting of an American star as a Brit (hey, Renee Zellweger did just fine as the ultra-English Bridget Jones), but Anne Hathaway floats through this one with a strangely weightless quality; she seems halting and hesitant, as though worried about mispronouncing words.
Jim Sturgess has been likable in movies as different as “Across the Universe” and “The Way Back,” but in order to ring true, Dexter needs more authentic wildness. Sturgess comes across as a decent bloke pretending to have movie problems.
Perhaps you will find yourself with the intended sense of urgency about these two getting together. I didn’t feel urgency, just impatience.
A late-story plot development comes along just when you expect it to, and its shock effect feels especially manipulative. Skillfully done, but manipulative, and at that point I began to resent the movie even more than I already did.
Every July 15th, we check in on the friendship of two Brits (Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess), who can’t recognize that they are actually in love with each other, although the audience can. This contrivance becomes a test of patience, and director Lone Scherfig can’t wring much appeal out of the two lead actors.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Showing: Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Pacific Place, Seven Gables, Thornton Place, Cascade Mall.