Sunday, August 21, 2011

ONE DAY, a modern love story

I receive a lot of my reading recommendations from my daughters, and last year one of them raved about a novel in which two opposites manage to sustain some sort of relationship by seeing each other every year on the same day. Yikes, I was suddenly thrust into the distant past in which a Harvard preppie falls for an outspoken and much smarter Italian scholarship student. So, I hesitated, since LOVE STORY had been one of the worst novels I had ever read; even the movie was better.

But when I did read David Nicholls' ONE DAY I loved it. Its witty conceit of a couple not quite being a couple for 20 years works. The dialogue had a delightful reality and the author catalogued the changes in British culture in the last two decades. Even more, there were believable characters who grew or fell in stature and whom you cared about. When a contemporary novel can achieve these feats, we get nervous when the film comes out. Yes, a film is not a novel; it's a different medium, a visual medium. But the best adaptations (see my review of THE HELP) keep the heart and spirit of the original. ONE DAY is no exception.

The American actress Anne Hathaway (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) plays Emma, an aspiring writer who enjoys her Oxford graduation night with a privileged playboy named Dexter(Jim Sturgess). Something clicks, and each St. Swithin's day they meet and catch up on each other's lives. At first Dexter is giddily successful as a flashy telly host for mindless music shows while Emma struggles to find her place. However, as Dexter's fortunes fall (his mother's death, loss of job, divorce, and addictions), Emma becomes a teacher and publishes successfully. Some of their meetings are fraught with longing, and others with loathing. But their need for each other never abates. All of this sounds heavy, but the film's clever structure and pacing (the author adapted his own novel), and its smart direction keep it from ever being maudlin (aka, LOVE STORY and its ilk). Hathaway grows from an awkward overchiever into a lovely, caring adult in a fine performance. Sturgess bravely shows Dexter's immaturity and even cruelty, but he is also poignantly real when he suffers. The supporting cast shines, particularly the elegant Patricia Clarkson as Dexter's long-suffering mother.

Directed by Lone Sherfig, who gave us the droll AN EDUCATION, ONE DAY succeeds on many levels. Not only is it a touching love story but it is also an examination of the bonds of friendship in a modern, distracting world, a world that discourages romantic love.

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