In the past 10 days I have both read the book One Day and seen it’s movie counterpart. So this is a combination review.
Written by: David Nicholls
My old college roommate was coming to stay with my husband and I for a few days with the purpose of attending a mutual friend’s wedding. By early August, we had both seen previews for the movie One Day and combined with my ex-roommates love of Jim Sturgess the interest was great enough that we made plans to see it when she was in town. I had heard that the book was amazing so I made a decision that I must read it before I went to see the movie. So one week prior to to scheduled outing I bought the book. I almost didn’t make it. It was such an incredibly busy week and by the day before I was about 4 chapters away from being finished. It just seemed unthinkable to be that close to the end and not finish. I did finish. After I got to the climax of the book I rushed through the ending, saw the movie, and then went back at my leisure to reread the ending a couple days later.
It’s not a book you want to rush through.
I really loved the book for a couple reasons. The first was just the honesty. The book didn’t gloss over anything but really captured the nuances of growing up. There were dozens of times that I related so much to the characters, their questioning and their journey. They were so flawed and being able to get inside their head and see why they made the decisions they did…well, even the bad ones made more sense. It reminded me that everyone makes mistakes and justifies them because we’re all human and it’s part of life. We have no room to judge, and I learned this even as I experienced disgust with the characters at points. The second thing I really liked was the dialogue. It was rich and witty, the kind of dialogue I day dream about being able to use in real life.
In case you aren’t aware of the general premise, the book has two main characters: Dexter and Emma. Each chapter looks into each of their lives on the same day every year for twenty years. Some years they are together and others they are apart. It can be a little hard to keep up with while you are reading because you have to try and catch up on the year you missed in every chapter (figure out what happened over the past year). But it was creative and it worked.
It’s very raw in a lot of places. There are some misguided decisions, emphasis put on the wrong values, doubt, reality, selfishness, sexual encounters… I felt like it was very real and relatable even if I didn’t always see eye to eye with the characters.
Released August 2011
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
The general fear with this movie was that the film just would not be able to capture the beauty of the book. It was certainly a challenge. My personal fear was the casting. Who would be able to capture these characters? I groaned a little when I heard Anne Hathaway was going to play Emma. Hathaway is a decent actress but I’ve just never liked her, and I like Emma, so wasn’t sure how I’d remedy that conflict. Additionally, actors trying to master the very distinct accents of other countries rarely work for me. There are obviously exceptions, but American to British seems to be one of the hardest to pull off and I was less than excited about hearing Hathaway’s attempt at it.
The two things this movie had going for it though was that Nicholls was adapting the screenplay himself and it was the perfect sort of movie for Lone Scherfig to direct. She is known for great characterization (An Education for instance) so if anyone was going to pull it off, it was her.
However, in my opinion, the book just didn’t translate well to screen.
I’m not the sort of person who gets upset when they change things about a book for a movie. They are two completely different mediums and to make a movie a good film, you just cannot follow the book exactly. If you can successfully capture the spirit of the book and make a great movie that stands on it’s own…I consider that a success. But I just don’t think that happened here.
The 20 year span of one day a year just didn’t work very well on screen. There was a lot to get in and a lot of time to cover. The movie moved too quickly. It was hard to get to know the characters when they seemed to be changing drastically every few minutes. You didn’t get the nuances of their personalities and decisions or ever really feel the pain they experienced. In some cases their flaws were glossed over (Emma’s character specifically is far more complex in the book) while in other instances the flaws were two black and white (I found myself hating Dexter in a movie, where I often sympathized with him in the book). Anne Hathaway ended up doing better than Jim Sturgess, and maybe her accent wasn’t distractingly terrible (I suppose my own awareness that it wasn’t real was more distracting). But at the end of the day, it just didn’t work.
I find myself wondering what I would have thought about the movie if I had watched it before reading the book. Am I judging it too harshly? Would I have followed it and liked the characters with no context?
Still, I don’t regret reading the book first because the book is absolutely better and would not have been as enjoyable had I known how the story ended. Though there is a general trajectory that you can see unfolding, there are still a lot of surprises along the way that would not have been felt as deeply had I known they were coming.