One Day: Directed by Danish Lone Scherfig

“One Day,” the first big-budget, star-driven feature from the gifted Danish director Lone Scherfig, is a major disappointment, a sentimental romantic melodrama that mistakes kitsch for art, and confuses sentimentality with emotionalism.

Though the narrative deviates from the book upon which it is based, you can’t blame the scribe as he is David Nicholss, the author of the best-selling book who adapted it to the big-screen.

I have just read the book, in preparation for seeing the movie, and while it is not a great work of literature, it’s far more compelling than the screen version, and far more sweeping in its emotions than what we get to see.

The movie suffers from other problems. There is no chemistry, erotic and otherwise between the two lovers, as played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. This couple never convinces us that they are a good match and destined to be together for life.

The tale spans about two decades, during which Emma Morely (Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Sturgess) begin a friendship, go to bed, fall in love, argue, separate, reunite, and so on.

It all starts on the crucial day of July 15, 1988 with the momentous event of college graduation. It’s established from the very beginning that the two come from different social class, are motivated by different ambitions, and are inspired by different dreams.

Opposites attract: Emma is an idealistic, even ambitious working class woman, hoping to leave her mark on the world. Dexter, in contrast, is a rich, charming, a bit shallow playboy who feels the world around is sort of a playground for him to enjoy, take advantage of rather than contribute to or change.

Same time next year: For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several meetings, all taking place on July 15th. We observe Emma and Dexter singly and jointly through their lives, their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, affairs with other people.

The movie aims to say something about pre-destination and the search of soul mates, the nature and meaning of fateful and fatal (literally) love. But the storytelling devices are so conventional, and the coding of the time period so routine, that they border the banal.

The observations in Nicholls’ novel about nostalgia and regret, dreams and reality are interspersed with wit, humor, irony, all of which are missing from the picture, which begins well but then quickly turns into a schmaltzy and manipulative Hollywood melodrama.

It’s hard to tell what motivated Lone Schefrig, the talented director of the Dogme film “Italian for Beginners” and the Oscar-nominated indie “An Education,” to this material. Navigating through the motions in a predictable way, she has made an uninspired, repetitive film.

Schefrig spends so much time and energy in grounding the story in its particular times and places that she neglects finding the nuance, the complexity, and the subtlety in the characters and in their evolution.

If Hathaway’s inconsistent British accent was the only problem in her acting, you could easily forgive and forget it. But rendering one of her weakest performances, she seems lost in the puzzle, perhaps a function of being misguided by Scherfig–or simply being miscast.  Hathaway might have been chosen for her marquee value; she is the most commercial actor in the cast.

Similarly, you may wonder what a terrific American actress like Patricia Clarkson is doing in the picture, cast as a Brit and also struggling with a coherent accent.

Not exactly a “deep” actor, Sturgess is appealing and  fares slightly better than the femmes, due to his handsome looks and the fact that his part suits his personality better.  But he too goes through the expected motions of a partyboy in need of redemption, not to mention detox.  That said, compared with Hathaway’s Emma, his character is less fully developed, which skews the balance between the two lead in her favor.  You find yourself rooting for and being on Emma’s side.

A bittersweet chronicle of the ups and downs of one relationship over time, “One Day” is old-fashioned in the negative sense of the term.  Due to its repetitive, redundant strcture, the movie overextends its welcome by at least 15 minutes, and excursions out of London, the main locale, to Birmingham and Paris, prove positive diversions up to a point.

Cast

Emma – Anne Hathaway
Dexter – Jim Sturgess
Alison – Patricia Clarkson
Steven – Ken Stott
Sylvie – Romola Garai
Ian – Rafe Spall