When they collect their diplomas from the University of Edinburgh in 1998, Emma's goal is to make a difference, Dexter's to make a splash.
One Day, which might be called When Dexter Met Emma. . . , is a snapshot album of these magnetically attracted opposites, capturing where they are every July 15 for the next 18 years. During this period, they wrestle with the question of whether friendship is a barrier to love or the basis of it. (July 15 is St. Swithin's Day, the British counterpart of America's groundhog superstition. The rhyme goes: "St. Swithin's Day if thou dost rain / For forty days it will remain.")
Anne Hathaway, all flyaway hair and puppy-pouty, is Em, and Jim Sturgess, cocksure and bedroom-eyed, Dex in Lone Scherfig's wan adaptation of David Nicholls' colorful novel.
Notwithstanding the considerable attractions of its stars, the characters never entirely emerge in this film from Scherfig, the maker of Italian for Beginners and An Education. Between the self-conscious performances of the leads and the film's amused nostalgia for two decades of unfortunate style choices, Dex and Em become reduced to stereotypes of posh heartbreaker and lovelorn scrapper.
Although Nicholls adapted his own novel for the screen, lost in his translation is the adroitness with which his characters skate from inner thought to outer expression. What they say, not what they feel, is paramount for Scherfig, whose film emphasizes their glib patter and not the inner anxiety that triggered it.
Nicholls' conceit of looking in on Dex and Em once a year worked more successfully in the novel than it does in the film. The literary medium is more sensitive to the changes in heart and head, while the visual one more alert to changes in costume and hair.
The performances are overeager. Particularly distracting is Hathaway's accent, which is less Yorkshire than New York. (Compare her accent to the pitch-perfect Patricia Clarkson, excellent as Dexter's patrician mother.)
Yet the vignettes of the yo-yo friendship and mutual attraction between these two beautiful animals have their insights and charms. Who knows you better than your best friend? Who's there to support you when you wobble, cheer you when you soar?
Nicholls' story notes envy between friends at career asymmetry, where one is on the rise and the other on the decline.
As in An Education, Scherfig's settings are unshowy, imparting period flavor without overwhelming what is, ultimately, an underwhelming film.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey
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