Readers Write In #262: One Day: A Revisit

Posted on September 6, 2020

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(by Vikas Yadav)

When looking at the list of some best romantic movies, the chances of finding Lone Scherfig’s One Day is as good as spotting the Sun during the night. I have rarely come across anyone who has even watched Scherfig’s 2011 rom-com that encapsulates its basic premise in the title: Twenty years, Two people… One Day. To expand on it, One Day follows the relationship of Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) over twenty years by highlighting only one day of their lives – 15 July, Saint Swithin’s Day. This removes the need to show all the unnecessary moments like death and divorce. What we get are the after-effects of these events.

Emma and Dexter meet after their graduation. From the very first conversation, sparks of quirk and wit are evident. But something else is hidden behind this layer of banter – genuine love and affection. Dexter walks Emma to her house, hoping to go beyond chit-chat. But poor Emma is not exactly an expert in the art of seducing someone to bed. “It’s just whenever I go to bed with someone, I always end up either laughing or weeping, and it could be nice to go for something in between.” Dexter understands and, with a smile, offers to be friends.

One of the many delights of watching One Day is how beautifully the friendship between them is portrayed. It does not come from a cheap fling or moral obligation (oh, look at her. She is alone. Let me provide company to her.) They enjoy each other’s presence, sympathizing with, and pushing one another to their best versions. When Emma tells him that she had been offered the manager’s job at the restaurant, he reminds her how funny, attractive, smart, and sexy she is. “If I could just give you one gift, all right, one gift for the rest of your life, do you know what I’d give you? Confidence.” “It’s either that or a scented candle,” he further adds. The dialogues never let things from getting dull or boring. Watching them talk, you wish for a person with the same sense of humor in your life.

Dexter and Emma go through many ups and downs. She aspires to be a writer while he wants to be…famous. Their professional side goes like a see-saw – First, he becomes incredibly rich and famous by working as a host in an awful TV program. Translation: Success comes easily to him. His mother remarks, “Dancing girls in cages. Is this what it’s come to?” On the other hand, Emma shifts from one job to another, finding little hope in her writings. The situation afterwards flips as Emma becomes a successful, published writer while Dexter loses his fame and starts working in other places.

In between all these phases, their friendship takes a brief toll. What kept the two attached was the two-way conversation in which one listened to another’s problems and what went on in their lives. This gave a feeling of assurance and understanding between them. So, when Dexter (sunk in drugs and fame) stops listening, Emma bursts out and leaves: “I love you, Dexter. So much. I just don’t like you anymore.” More than drugs, it’s the unattachment that really bothers Emma. “If I can’t talk to you, then what is the point of you? Of us?”

Both Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess bring their fictional characters to life. Observe minute details like the slight movement of hands or lips or eyes that communicate deeper things going on inside them. Notice a pause when Dexter says, “No, no. Emma’s just a…good friend.” Or see his expression when, after asking for her phone number, she also starts giving her father’s phone and fax number. Notice Emma’s face when Dexter offers friendship after a near-miss encounter on graduation day. Look at her eyes when Dexter shows him the wedding card, on the roof. She wants them to be a couple but is not desperate enough to stop him from going after things he thinks are best for him. She is not lonely; she is alone. Well, not for long. Emma starts seeing Ian (Rafe Spall), a comedian who attempts doing wry, little observations (Seinfeld, anyone?). Both Emma and Dexter settle for incompatible partners. In his case, it is Sylvie (RomolaGarai). It’s not out of boredom but because they are tired.

Director Lone Scherfig made One Day after the success of her 2009 coming-of-age drama An Education, which was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. According to IMDb, the screenplay of One Day was featured in the 2010 Blacklist (a list containing most liked and unmade scripts of the year.) Scherfig infuses the story with style and freshness. The text containing date and year is placed neatly in the frame – moving on top of a car, dancing on a laptop screen, and so on. Some transitions – from a kick in a studio to a disco, a pan from the terrace to a restaurant – are smooth and well-edited. The pace never slows down or turns bland. Something exciting keeps happening to keep the viewer engaged.

One Day is one of those films that remind how precious time actually is. Emma and Dexter finally unite but…You wish they had not been in denial for so long. But then, the separation taught them more about themselves than they ever could have learned otherwise. Over the years, I have spotted small details that fascinate me every time I revisit the film like the street lights being switched off and on at the beginning (early hours of the morning) and ending (as darkness ushers in the night) of the film respectively; leaving with the effect of one day. Emma rides a cycle, and we see one standing in the background as she kisses Dexter in the end. The mood feels melancholic because of whatever came before. This moment is scored to Rachel Portman’s bittersweet “We Had Today,” a track that captures love in a symphony.

Interestingly, One Day is the film that introduced me to the world of Roger Ebert. After my initial viewing, way back in 2014, when I searched for the reviews online, Ebert’s positive rating caught my attention. One of his lines has always been stuck on my mind: “In a season of movies dumb and dumber, One Day has style, freshness, and witty bantering dialogue.” And the movie too has given me a line filled with optimism: “Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ve had today.” I couldn’t agree more.