One Day is based on the book by David Nicholls, who in a rare move by Hollywood, was allowed to adapt his book for the screenplay. Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess) first meet on their college graduation night and spend their first day together on July 15, also known as St. Swithin's Day in the UK. And with that, Emma and Dexter begin their two decade long journey.
The action quickly moves from their university to the cityscape of London. Hathaway’s Emma yearns to be a writer while Sturgess’ Dexter… well, Dex isn’t sure what he wants to do. But, he comes from money and in many ways doesn’t have to worry about such things.
Sturgess astounds in his role. The actor, who shined in the Beatles-themed Across the Universe, brings his impressive talent to the forefront with the not-so-easy task of capturing a character over a long period of time. Dex goes from a “who cares about anything” lothario to all around good soul worthy of Emma’s friendship and perhaps even love.
Hathaway, as always, is brilliant in One Day. For any American thespian, capturing a British accent is a thankless task. With such an army of amazing British actresses out there, it is unavoidable that if the American’s performance misses the mark, the cry for “Why didn’t they use a Brit” will come from all corners of the kingdom. Her success in One Day is hardly a surprise for Hathaway fans as they know what an amazing job she did capturing one of the UK’s favorite daughters -- Jane Austen -- in 2007’s Becoming Jane. Also, her characterization in One Day requires less alteration over time as Emma is already a middle-aged soul when we first meet her on that fateful college graduation night.
One Day is a simple story, yet it feels like a sweeping romance.
This format of storytelling is nothing new to cinema. Yet, 1978’s Same Time Next Year did it with more power. Although Same Time Next Year and One Day focus on two incredibly different couples with the former showcasing an affair between two people that is shared outside of their normal lives, the latter is a 20-year expose of a friendship that blossoms into love.
One issue we have with One Day? A plot device used in a million romantic films that audiences can see from a million miles away. It is hinted at in the beginning of the film before it flashes back to Emma and Dex’s graduation night. When the film catches up to the big moment near the end, it may be easy to feel cheated. With that being said, as Nicholls' book contained the same plot point and it works on the page, it is hard to fault the film for its use of this age-old cinematic storyline.
The film is also slow to get going and even when it starts to get into the meat of the story, it at times feels flat. As is the case with most page to screen adaptations, the book fares better than the film -- yet One Day still channels the novel’s heart and soul.