Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From Book to Chick Flick: One Day

June 15th is St. Swithin’s Day. It is a date of great enormity for two friends-almost-with-benefits, even more than Tax Day. It was on this day they first met each other and on subsequent St. Swithin's Days that events conspire to pull them apart and bring them back together. Romances come and go, but the pseudo-couple keep circling each other in Lone Scherfig’s One Day (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

As BMOC, Dexter Mayhew never really noticed the mousy but attractive Emma Morley until the night of their graduation. She noticed him though. Unfortunately, when she finally gets him back to her place, he nearly bolts unceremoniously. Do not blame him too harshly. After all, she started playing Tracey Chapman records. If not exactly what she had in mind, they decide to friend-up for the night and friends they remain over the years to come. Yet, it is not really that simple.

Yes, boyfriends, girlfriends, live-ins, and spouses enter and exit, challenging the platonic relationship built on deep-seated mutual attraction. However, as the years pass and flashbacks return us to that fateful St. Swithin’s Day of 1988, we slowly learn the full extent of what passed between Mayhew and Morley.

Essentially, One Day is a Starbuck’s friendly updating of Same Time Next Year. However, the film’s march of time format keeps the pace rather brisk by chick flick standards. Scherfig wisely never belabors less eventful years, essentially flipping the calendar page as soon as a St. Swithin’s Day is played out. Adapted quite economically by David Nicholls from his own novel, OD is the second film co-produced by book publisher Random House and distributor Focus Features. One rather wishes he had titled it St. Swithin’s Day, but then he probably would have had two marketing departments out to wring his neck.

As for Anne Hathaway, she seems to think the film is titled Bridgit Jone’s Diary. She is okay, but essentially just hits the same slightly hippyish naïf note throughout the film. However, the high level of Jim Sturgess’ work truly comes as a surprise. Initially, he benefits from simply not being James Franco. Yet, as the years advance, he takes Mayhew on a real rollercoaster of a developmental arc, bottoming out several times, but never taxing our patience with histrionics. Who knew he had it in him?

For jazz fans, OD presents an added frustration by introducing a jazz musician character (one of Morley’s lovers, described as a free jazz pianist, no less), but never allowing us to hear his music. Instead, Rachel Portman penned an uncharacteristically bland score, augmented by a not-half-bad original song from the eternally cool Elvis Costello. It all certainly looks romantic, thanks to the sensitive lensing of cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, who nicely capitalizes on the picturesque London, Paris, and Edinburgh locations.

Ultimately, there is no getting around OD’s chick flickiness. Still, guys who have been resisting their girlfriends’ movie suggestions should consider biting the bullet here. Not only is Scherfig’s approach unexpectedly engaging and Sturgess’ work shockingly good, they might perversely enjoy the big third act drama. For those who enjoy a sad love story, OD opens this Friday (8/19) in New York at the Clearview Chelsea and Regal Union Square.