26 August 2011

ONE DAY- Review

A quick warning should be given here. One Day is based on the best-selling book of the same name, written by David Nicholls, who also provides the screenplay for this film adaptation. One Day the novel seems to be hugely popular, but not so much that I'm not going to give a spoiler warning. I'm not going to use that as a licence to directly speak about what happens at the end of the movie, but just be wary if you haven't yet read the book and want to see this one unspoiled.

Ready? OK then. So, One Day follows best friends Dexter and Emma, who become acquainted upon their graduation from Edinburgh University in 1988. Their relationship is principally platonic, seeing as how she's an awkward working-class girl with low self-esteem, and he's a privileged ladykiller without a care in the world. The twist here is that we only see the pair on July 15th, one day of each year, every year, over the course of two decades.

Here's where I'm going to lapse into a bit of an editorial. It really might have helped to warn you of this as much as the spoilers. I don't get everyone's beef with 2005's movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I thought it was a blast, personally- not the best version of that story, but an enjoyable version. If you didn't like it, fair enough, but it remains one version of a story that has been told in books, radio, on TV and on a towel. My view on adaptation is to see the story first and the medium second.

To many, that's sacrilege. The doctrine states, "But you have to read the book first." The argument being that you're going to get more from the book than you ever could from the film. Sometimes that's true, and sometimes not. And when it's true, sometimes it's still a bad thing- books can be over-long in the same way as films can. In the case of One Day, I suspect that the book is much better than the film. And so I have something to look forward to, rather than having read the book first and irrationally hated the film, as some have.

There's my editorialising over with. This is a film review, and the film in question is surprisingly hamstrung by the format. It struggles to manage 20 separate days as one entirely coherent narrative, because those days are staggered over 20 years. To Nicholls' credit, he doesn't resort to narration to try and bring some of the characters' internal monologue off of the page, bravely trying to soldier through with exposition. But as Indiana Jones once said, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." And the years pass all too quickly, in a way that may even have been an intentional bit of foreshadowing. That, for one thing, would be much more subtle than the film's fatally misjudged opening scene.

If, like me, you don't know where this is going when you start watching it, the first scene gives you a huge clue. I am 100% certain that the book doesn't open in the same way that the film does, because it turns something which happens later on into something staggeringly predictable. Here's why we should look at the story first and not the medium- both come from the pen of David Nicholls, and he wrote the story as a book first. It's not an adaptation, so much as a transference from one medium to another- the film feels spoon-fed as a result. However, this is no fault of the cast or crew.

Director Lone Scherfig, hot off her Oscar-nominated success with An Education, does a good job of directing the sprawling tale from the late 1980s to the present day. It's in the DNA of the tale that Emma and Dexter are seldom together, but Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are relatable enough to make their romance interesting and engaging. It's intentionally an un-sexy relationship- far more sparky and snarky, by turns. But ultimately, there's not a single thing that anyone can do to prevent the superb Rafe Spall from walking away with the whole film, in the role of Emma's hopeless second-choice boyfriend, Ian. These are all good things about the film, but ultimately, it doesn't all hold together.

The challenge of One Day, towards my general stance on adaptations, is relative to the fact that David Nicholls is doing the screenplay. The logic there should be that the original author will preserve what's good about the story, but within the strictures of a 12A film that runs for 108 minutes, it never feels like anything more than another version of the story. Though I hate to say it, it's almost an advert for the book, and there's shockingly very little else to it. For the more open-minded fans of the book, I think it will prove an enjoyable companion piece, but the cast, who do a damn good job, deserved better.

One Day is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen One Day, why not share your comments below? And leave Anne Hathaway alone, dammit. OK, so she might never be a believable dowdy Yorkshire lass, but the vitriol over her accent is uncalled for.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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