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One not-so-fine Day

Despite clever plot devices, tale of star-crossed lovers succumbs to melodrama

Soul mates dont always find their way. Sometimes it takes years, and decades peppered with poor decisions and the wrong people.

The emotional journey of one such couple is explored in One Day, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as star-crossed lovers Emma and Dexter.

The idealistic, semi-geeky Emma has had a crush on Dexter for ages. Who wouldnt? Dex is smooth, monied, and infinitely beddable. We meet them on July 15, 1988, their college graduation. The date is vital, because over the next 20 years, the audience gets a snapshot, a peek inside their relationship, every July 15.

Their unlikely, occasional friendship turns out to be the only constant in their lives, as Emma negotiates failed career expectations (most notably during a stint as a Tex-Mex waitress), and an emotionally stunted Dex goes on to hollow fame as a television presenter.

Remember how before the age of the all-informative Facebook when you bumped into an old friend after a year and they looked slightly different? Its like that. (A novel concept for young uns raised on Twitter.) Dex and Em experience the stuff of life over the years: significant relationships, substance abuse, a wedding and a child.

There are 364 other days on the calendar, of course, and we check in with our couple only to discover that some events have happened while we were away (so to speak). Luckily, David Nicholls, who wrote the best-selling novel, also wrote the screenplay. He keeps the once-a-year device intact and was well qualified to cram two decades worth of heartache into a feature-length film.

Not unlike the recent film The Help, One Day faces fiercely loyal readers with high expectations for a film adaptation. There was a kerfuffle in England over casting an American actress to play the beloved Emma character, though, to be fair, Hathaways accent only occasionally drifts into some sort of intangible dialect. And in staying true to the English, Scottish and Parisien locales, filmmakers get points simply for refusing to go completely Hollywood with the storyline.

A natural chemistry between Hathaway and Sturgess (Across the Universe) helps to temper the films somewhat rushed pace through the years. We know that these two eventually get togetherits right there on the poster, after all and for the most part we are patient enough to root for them, even when all seems lost.

Its a shame that Ken Stott and Patricia Clarkson (great actors, both) are wasted in roles as Dexters parents, necessary casualties of the hasty narrative.

And alas, as soon as the narrative tool is dispensed with, the story starts to fall apart. Melodrama sets in, and a jarring hand-of-God event occurs that will be a shock to those who havent read the book. However, astute viewers will notice bits and pieces, clues in some July 15s that foreshadow what will happen in future ones.

It takes more than shoulder pads and haircuts to define a period, and director Lone Scherfig (An Education, Italian For Beginners) resists the temptation to shove set design and costuming down our gullet. Time transitions are subtle, even if the three-hankie ending is not.

One Day

Opens Friday at Fifth Avenue and International Village

jcrawfordfilm@gmail.com