28 August 2011

"If I Can't Talk to You, What Is the Point of You?"

The trouble with film adaptations of books, especially films that are adapted from books as popular as David Nicholls's One Day, is that they attract to the cinema hoards of people who don't go to the cinema very often and who are not well versed in cinema etiquette. I can probably let off the groups of teenagers in the afternoon screening of One Day at my local Odeon for chatting and general pantomimish booing, hissing and cheering (hey, it's the end of the summer holidays...) but the couple next to me, who were probably in their late 30s, were far more annoying. After every single funny line (and there were plenty), they would roar with laughter, then repeat the line themselves, and laugh again.

Audience aside, I rather liked One Day, although I wasn't sure that I would. I read the novel one afternoon last Christmas, which is fast, even for me. I hadn't heard of the book before but Papa told me I had to read it. Clich├ęd as it may be to say so, I think I liked it because the heroine Emma "spoke" to me in some way. Haven't we all fallen for some hot and charismatic but generally crap bloke at some point (even if we weren't all wearing bad '90s specs and Doc Martens at the time and even if we weren't all northern)?

In the case of One Day, the girl in question is Emma (played by Anne Hathway in the movie) a clever and wry but unconfident would-be writer. On the night of her university graduation, way back in 1988--15 July, or St Swithun's Day, more specifcally--she hooks up with a handsome chancer named Dexter (Jim Sturgess). For various reasons, they end up just being friends and the movie, like the book, then checks in on them every year on St Swithun's Day.

For the first few years, Emma isn't in a good place. She works in a crappy Mexican restaurant in London, not spending enough time (or any time) working on her novel and later dates Ian (Rafe Spall), her co-worker and would-be comedian; Spall makes Ian particularly cringe-worthy in the film. Dex, meanwhile, goes off to India to find himself and then to Paris for yet another extended gap year, before walking into a job in TV production. He then becomes the presenter of some kind of TFI Friday-meets-Eurotrash TV show, sleeping around, doing coke and generally doing what was done in the '90s. Emma has, by this point, become a teacher and a pretty good one, and she has also ditched Ian and made some headway with her writing career. But she's still drawn to Dexter, even when he only calls when he wants something and then treats her badly when she does agree to meet him. When he sees Emma wearing one of those dark blue, silk, Chinese print dresses that everyone had in about 2000, at a friend's wedding, he thinks he may have made a mistake but it's too late because he's already impregnated the humourless and stiff-upper-lipped but rich and pretty Sylvie (Romola Garai) and they're getting married the following month.

But will there ever be a time and a place for Emma and Dex (to paraphrase the Pet Shop Boys in their 1997 cover of Somewhere, a '90s song that, unlike many others, was not featured in this film)? Well, yes, of course, because otherwise, it would probably be a bit of a let-down, but, perhaps fortunately, there weren't any promises of happy endings either.

Anne Hathaway's accent was far from pitch perfect ("no mate, I was going for Italian. Miss it?") but that was OK because otherwise I thought she did a good job of playing Emma and, without wishing to spoil the film too much, there was a moment where my eyes did tear up (in part because, thanks to the book, I knew what was coming). Jim Sturgess, meanwhile, whom I've seen previously in Fifty Dead Men Walking and 21 (does he only choose roles in movies with numbers in their title?) and in both of these films, he plays nice, well-meaning characters. Good guys. Dexter isn't really a good guy and he isn't even that well-meaning; at least not for most of the film. Sturgess certainly managed to make Dexter seem pretty unlikable at times, although I was somewhat distracted by the fact that he looked a lot like a guy from my year at St Jocks' (in the earlier scenes with the early-'90s, long, haircut; not so much in the 2000s, where the character's grey hair didn't look very convincing--I'm sure they had Just for Men then). His voice sounded a lot like Matt Berry's character in The IT Crowd, and confusingly, Matt Berry showed up for a brief cameo in One Day as Dexter's agent.

I enjoyed the music too and many of the other "period" details. Rachel Portman's score was good, although I like most of her film scores, such as Never Let Me Go and The Cider House Rules, and most of the other featured songs read like a compilation of "stuff I used to listen to in the '90s": Fatboy Slim's Praise You, Aftermath by Tricky, Rhythm of the Night by Corona, Roll to Me by Del Amitri, and the inevitable karaoke version of Robbie Williams's Angels, sung, in this case, by a bride at her wedding, with the rest of the guests joining in, drunkenly and out-of-tune, on the chorus. It's nice to find a film where nostalgia that is relevant to me (even if I was still at school in the '90s) plays an important role.

One Day is flawed, for sure, and many people who have read the book will, no doubt, be more critical of it than I, but I liked it. Equally, those who haven't read the book may find it a little too telegraphic, which is an almost inevitable by-product of turning a 400-page novel into a 107-minute film (one of the reviews of the movie I read called it a "greatest hits" of the book); it worked for me, but I could imagine some finding it a little shallow.

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