(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Men on Film: Two Critics, One Day

Reverend's Reviews: One (Not Very Fine) Day:

July 15th is revered in Anglican Church circles as the feast of Saint Swithin (sometimes spelled Swithun), a 9th-century bishop of Winchester known for — in the words of his Wikipedia entry — "posthumous miracle-working." Swithin is referenced several times in the new movie One Day, opening nationwide today. If only the good saint's miracles extended to cinematic adaptations of bestselling novels; One Day could use one.

An uneasy mix of romantic longing and thwarted fairy tale, the plot follows two British friends and occasional lovers over a 20-year period beginning with their initial encounter on July 15, 1988. A middle-class, ambitious wannabe-writer, Emma (played by American actress Anne Hathaway), meets the wealthy, uninhibited Dex (Jim Sturgess of the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe) following their college graduation. The film subsequently revisits the pair each July 15th thereafter, and we watch the ebb and flow of their careers and angst-ridden relationship via vignettes accompanied by period-appropriate pop songs.

This "annual checkup" conceit ultimately proves precious and plodding, despite the occasionally clever ways each date is worked into the scene visually. I haven't read the novel by David Nicholls upon which the film is based (Nicholls also wrote the screenplay). A co-worker who has read the book informs me that the years and events aren't presented chronologically/sequentially on the page as they are on screen. I therefore suspect that events in the novel are presented in a more nuanced and layered way than they are in this heavy-handed movie version.

At least viewers are privy to some lovely scenery in Great Britain and France (shot by Benoit Delhomme) while we watch the lead characters struggle, work, love, grieve and skinny dip. By film's end, one of them learns "Whatever happens tomorrow, we've had today" as the result of a tragic twist so heavily foreshadowed in the moments before that it should surprise no one.

The cast can't be faulted for One Day's shortcomings. Hathaway and Sturgess are fine in their roles and have good chemistry. I am already weary, however, of Hathaway playing tortured romantic victims following this and last year's Love & Other Drugs. Here's hoping she gets to bust loose and kick some ass as Catwoman in next summer's The Dark Knight Rises. Patricia Clarkson (Far from Heaven, Easy A) is good as always in her brief turn as Dex's doting, terminally ill mother.

Directed by Lone Scherfig, One Day serves as a disappointing follow-up to her more subtle, Oscar-nominated film of 2009, An Education. It also represents a rare misstep for the usually reliable Focus Features, maker of such gay-interest successes as Brokeback Mountain, Milk and Beginners. Some fellow critics and audience members may find One Day miraculous somehow. By it's final 20 minutes, though, I was praying to Saint Swithin for deliverance.

Reverend's Rating: C-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

On the other hand...

Reel Thoughts: A Blue Valentine (That People Will Actually Want to Watch):

From Same Time, Next Year to (500) Days of Summer to last year’s brutal Blue Valentine, films that unfold on timelines are fascinating, because you get to see the characters change, sometimes radically, from date to date. One Day is like Same Time, Next Year in that we follow Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess on the same date over twenty-three years, starting with a night of passion on the graduation day in 1988 all the way to 2011. At first, the date skipping from year to year seemed too quick and too facile, but as the film progressed, you grow to love Emma and Dex, flaws and all. July 15th, or St. Swithin’s Day as Dex informs Emma after their not-completed tryst, grows dramatically in significance as the pair grow older.

David Nicholls has adapted his best-selling novel masterfully, showing Dex’s rise as a smarmy television host and Emma’s escape from a dead-end restaurant job to become the teacher and then novelist she always wanted to be. Of course, Dex’s superficial fame leads to a drug-addicted, sex-drenched superficial life that is bound to burn out, and it does. Through everything, Emma’s and Dex’s friendship and love survives, and this is what makes One Day so powerful and moving.

Everyone has regrets and wonders how there life might have been different if they had engaged with that one elusive person. Writer Nicholls and Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) frankly show the highs and lows that fate gives us, and never stoop to easy laughs or unearned payoffs. Hathaway and Sturgess each give incredibly nuanced performances, aided by the luminous Patricia Clarkson as Dex’s mother and a cast of fine British actors. Emma and Dex’s relationship is presented in a real, mature fashion, full of the fights and reconciliations that every couple faces.

Anyone who has ever experienced the highs of love and the devastating lows of loss will want to experience this One Day. Its hopeful ending will comfort you with the promise that life can rebound, even when you think it cannot. With Sarah’s Key, The Help and now One Day, the best movies of the year are finally arriving.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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