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One Day

Directed by Lone Scherfig

Starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess

Rated PG-13

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Emma and Dexter met for the first time — officially — on the day of their college graduation and got together that night. Almost. They separated the next morning, but their lives were intertwined for the next twenty years. Starring Anne Hathaway as Emma Morley and Jim Sturgess as Dexter Mayhew, One Day is a film adaptation of the New York Times bestseller of the same title by British writer David Nicholls.

One Day checks up on Emma and Dexter’s relationship every July 15th for twenty years. The premise is that simple, but One Day is not. I confess: I have read the book, and adored the story and its characters even before the film. But if you can empathize with extremely real characters with flaws to the point of frustration or believe in the lovely absurdity of romance and life, then the film’s almost narcissistic obsession with “Em and Dex” will speak much more.

One Day is driven by complicated characters. Emma is the demure and witty scholar with great dreams to change the world, but with far less courage to match. Dexter, a dashing, free-spirited fellow truly lives by his words — “Be spontaneous, be reckless, be in the moment” — but life doesn’t always cooperate. Hathaway and Sturgess are spot-on in their interpretations of Em and Dex. While at times it may be hard to understand exactly why their characters would even like each other, the chemistry is evident. Sharing smart, quirky banter and good looks (although one’s is more extravagant than the other’s), Emma and Dexter light up to each other on-screen. Emma and Dexter possess the basics of what some would call “opposites attract.” But I think the attraction between true opposites fades out. Emma and Dexter, on the other hand, have a sustaining connection. They are ultimately Em and Dex, two people who will always be complementary.

Despite the very believable characters and the awfully realistic turns in their entangled lives, One Day is not real. The music, the stylishly mellow cinematography, the rigid — sometimes uncomfortable — fast-forwarding, all keep the audience in a surreal, dreamlike stroll. Walking out of the theatre into Boston Common, I felt like the ultimate escapist — a dreamer of someone’s else’s dreams in concentrated doses.

Although dreamlike, One Day’s progression of telling fragments inspires our own realities. One Day provides a deceptively matter-of-fact portrayal of the two people’s lives — one that is actually quite provocative and almost frightening for college students that might soon depart the haven we call school. One Day reinforces the sinuous waves of life that recalibrate when penetrated by a rock or a droplet of rain — or, say, marriage. What will we become in face of money, fame, and other temptations? Who will we hold on to and let go?

One day, Em and Dex go on a vacation to France, pledging beforehand to stay platonic for the entire trip. At night’s fall, Em and Dex are lying next to each other in bed. “I wonder how many rules we broke,” Emma reflects out loud. Dexter replies in that ever-so-Dexter charm, “All of them.” One day is one way, the next is another. Twenty years is a long time, but how many days can be shamelessly, splendidly happy?