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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

In wake of film, revisiting the novel ‘One Day’

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

In the last month, the movie “One Day” came and went, quickly fading at the box office despite being based on a bestselling book. Published in 2009 by author David Nicholls, the novel became an international bestseller, topping the charts three times.On the other hand, the film—directed by Lone Scherfig, best known for 2009’s “An Education”—plummeted rapidly, grossing only $5 million its first weekend (“The Help,” by comparison, profited $20 million despite being in its second weekend). By now, the indie romance staring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess is a faint memory in most people’s minds, a sort of, “Oh, was that a movie?”

As the school year began, I toted “One Day”—the novel—to Brandeis in order to finish reading it. Despite homework and the intensity of my ultimate Frisbee team, I often found myself reading it into the late hours of the night.

The story concerns itself with the lives of two people, Dex and Emma. Beginning with the night of their college graduation, the novel narrates their lives on a single day—July 15—in the following 20 years. Dex is unlikable and immature, while Emma is poetic and charming; yet you end up rooting for them anyway. Their inevitable union takes the better part of the novel, but Nicholls manages to create some wonderful character portraits along the way. I loved the novel but, as for the movie, what went wrong there?

You could cite many a reason for the film’s lackluster performance. Anne Hathaway has a dreadful British accent for one and Jim Sturgess has a funny haircut for another.

Though Nicholls himself wrote the script, it seems to lack substance and skips key scenes. Emma is meant to lose her way in her 20s. She becomes stuck in a minimum wage job, almost marries a man she doesn’t love and has an affair with her boss. The movie, perhaps in the interest of time, focuses more on Dexter’s self-destructive behavior and skims over Emma scenes. Instead of watching Emma emerge as a character, you find yourself only appreciating how the makeup artist makes her look older from scene to scene.

Yet, despite critic’s bad reviews and its low domestic gross ($13 million), I personally didn’t find it too terribly offensive. Hathaway and Sturgess at least have chemistry, and the first time they kiss onscreen is actually moving. Hathaway plays both geeky Emma and sophisticated Emma very well, while Sturgess somehow gets away with being a loveable jerk. Many witty lines from the novel remain, including an exchange in which Emma and Dex discuss rules for vacations: no skinny dipping and no scrabble. While it may not have been a perfect adaptation, did it deserve to get clobbered purely on merit?

A more pressing problem may have had nothing to do with the movie itself. It had the misfortune of opening on a weekend when both “The Help” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” proved strong holdovers. Maybe the film’s distributor should have paid closer attention to the novel’s details: After all, it focuses on July 15—why not open on that date?

The main problem, in my not so expert opinion, is that film adaptations are simply never as good as the books. They can never recapture the exact feelings I had while reading or invest me as much in the plot. Books I can’t put down, while movies always pale in comparison. I advise you to pick up “One Day” the novel because, in this case, the written word easily wins.