By CHRIS TOOKEY
Dex appeal: Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway
David Nicholls’ word-of-mouth bestseller was not only a charming, cleverly structured romantic comedy, but also one of the most observant books about British society in the past 20 years.
The film works well enough to make it one of 2011’s more entertaining romcoms. Near the end, it even made me cry — but I fear that some of my tears were of frustration that it wasn’t much, much better.
Compared with how good it should have been, it’s a disaster.
Disappointment: Jim Sturgeons delights as Dexter but Anne Hathaway doesn't live up to expectations as Emma
The story is of two Edinburgh university graduates who become best friends, but fail to come together romantically until almost too late. By showing us the same day — St Swithin’s — over 20 years, it tells the story of their relationship and, through them, the story of a generation.
It’s not a wholly original concept — aspects of it are borrowed from Sondheim’s masterly musical Merrily We Roll Along and Bernard Slade’s 1975 stage comedy Same Time, Next Year — but it is a splendid conceit, which shows us the passing of time and the missed opportunities many of us come to regret in middle age.
Let’s start with the positives.
By gum she's bad: Anne Hathaway as Emma
The film has a five-star, sensational leading performance by Jim Sturgess as Dexter, a public-school smoothie who can’t resist a pretty female face or the attractions of quick and easy fame on the telly. In many ways, he personifies the arrogance of youth.
Without a charming, multi-faceted actor, Dexter could easily have been unsympathetic in his resolute superficiality.
Sturgess captures brilliantly Dexter’s self-destructiveness and ability to deceive himself, if no one else, while his eyes reflect his guilt at never quite doing the right thing by his long-term best friend Emma (Anne Hathaway) or his parents (Ken Stott and Patricia Clarkson).
Bestseller: The novel One Day was a huge hit but the film disappoints
Because Sturgess is so great, the film is all about him, in a way that the novel never is. It is he who has the tragic character arc, he who grows as a character, him who you weep for by the end. The film is also excellent in its supporting players. Rafe Spall is marvellous in the potentially caricature role of Ian, the scruffy stand-up comedian whom Emma beds as a second-rate substitute for Dexter.
Cut down: The character of Emma in One Day is refined from the novel, her affair with a married man is removed in the film
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