Yes, the romantic summer film One Day happily basks in the ploys and flavors of movie-romance sentimentality and serves up rom-com frivolity and weepy triggers all along the way. We variously snigger, tear up, and roll eyes at the hokum of it all, all of which are natural responses to unabashed romanticism in the Cineplex (vs. the art house). But even so, the perilous bugaboo of melodramatic excess is mostly, key word mostly, dodged by virtue of the story’s unique narrative machinery, following the lives of characters for two decades from the prism of a single day each year.
Based on David Nicholls’s novel, One Day bears a title with at least a couple of potential meanings, both referring to the conceptual conceit of checking in on the state and fate of our characters each year on July 15 and waxing hopeful about the resolutions that fate might bring in the future, “one day.” In a phrase, the film is also an Easy-Bake meditation on the way life happens when we’re making other plans. We assume, from scene one, that our star-crossed lovers (Anne Hathaway, seen in myriad different hair/fashion/cultural getups and not bad with her British accent, and Jim Sturgess as a rake turning slowly decent) will wind up together, one day, but the roadmap of twists and near misses along the plot’s way deftly toys with our emotions and expectations, to a degree.
While it’s a refreshing variation on the rom-com theme we’ve seen traipsing, with uneven quality, through our summertime moviegoing, One Day disappoints mostly in relation to higher expectations for the work of its director, the Danish Lone Scherfig. Her previous films, An Education (another film with a flaky male at its core, come to think of it) and the wonderful and slightly loony Italian for Beginners (her masterpiece, so far) managed the delicate balance of coolly controlled emotionality and inventive, artful conjuring.
This time out, her narrative slow dance of wannabe, seemingly fated lovers, leans a bit too closely toward the realm of the mawkish for comfort. But we’re rewarded with pleasurable bits and moments all along the 20-year path, including some elegant sights (via cinematographer Benoît Delhomme) and sounds (via composer Rachel Portman). It’s nice to look at, listen to, and occasionally groan at.