Aug 19 2011
Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
As sensitive and open-minded as I like to think I am towards all genres of film, I find myself behaving like most guys when it comes to the dreaded chick flick, especially if it’s based on a best-selling novel or has a nebulous, nondescript name that could mean anything or nothing. So you can imagine why I’d be wary of ‘One Day’, a film based on an international bestseller that stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as Emma and Dexter, a British would-be couple whose friendship and romantic near-misses are followed by checking in with them every June 15th over twenty years.
If you’ve seen any of the promotional material for ‘One Day’ or know the conventions of romance movies, you know that Emma and Dexter’s evolving affections for each other won’t go unrequited. And the fun of a movie like ‘One Day’ should be seeing how a couple destined to be together eventually, over two decades, grows together, overcomes their self-imposed obstacles and figures out what the audience has known all along.
But in ‘One Day’, it’s made clear that Emma knows early on that she wants to be with Dexter. That means that the biggest obstacle to Emma and Dexter becoming the couple we know they should be is Dexter, and, more specifically, his immaturity. That’s when I realized that ‘One Day’ isn’t so much a romance movie as it is an emotional revenge fantasy for women who’ve had the misfortune of falling for jerks.
We’ve all had that fantasy, where that dreamboat crush who wouldn’t reciprocate your affections during your awkward youth comes crawling back later in life, broken and humbled, to tell you what a fool they were to deny you, only to find that you’ve transformed into a sexy, successful swan with a smoking hot partner. It’s the dream high school reunions are made of.
And that’s essentially what we have with ‘One Day’ since, for much of the film, Dexter (and it’s really his movie) is a good-looking, charming, privileged, womanizing, fairly shallow jerk, especially when his career and ego take off when he inexplicably and unrealistically becomes a B-list celebrity as the loudmouth host of an annoying late-night show. It seems Dexter’s only redeeming quality is his friendship with Emma, who has become more frumpy as her dreams of becoming a writer and having a relationship with Dexter stall and she finds herself stuck in a dead-end waitressing job.
But in keeping with the crush revenge fantasy, we know that Dexter must eventually be laid low, admit the error of his ways and beg forgiveness, while Emma must blossom professionally and aesthetically and get a hot boyfriend to really rub it in. There’s more to the story that I won’t give away, but I’ll just say that ‘One Day’ takes this fantasy to its logical and supposedly tearjerking conclusion.
While I’m sure we’d all like to turn the tables on those that spurned us, the problem with this as a movie is that we spend much of ‘One Day’ waiting for Dexter to stop being a jerk while wondering why the increasingly attractive and accomplished Emma hasn’t met someone better. Dexter’s friendship with Emma is supposedly his saving grace, yet we rarely see the connection of like minds that should be its foundation. And while the film looks nice, its tone is uneven and never quite feels like slices of life taken at yearly intervals.
If you want to see a great movie about two people whose friendship slowly, sometimes painfully turns romantic, 1989’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’ still can’t be beat. But if you want payback on a former crush who clearly doesn’t know what they’re missing, ‘One Day’ might help you vicariously stick it to them.
‘One Day’ is rated PG-13 and opens today.