THERE WAS A MOMENT, maybe half an hour into One Day, when I realized: This is how this movie is going to go. What appears to be a formula is in fact a formula, and I am trapped in it for the next 80 minutes.
Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) meet in college and almost hook up—she's more into it than he is, because he is a charming playboy and she is a writerly dork. (Turns out if you give Anne Hathaway weird glasses and bad clothes she actually does look pretty frumpy and unbangable.) The date—THIS IS IMPORTANT—is July 15.
The next scene takes place a year later. On July 15.
Can you guess the date of the following scene? How about the next one? (Wikipedia explains that July 15 is St. Swithin's Day, a sort of British equivalent to Groundhog Day that predicts the weather for the next 40 days. As a metaphor, this is too dumb to consider further.)
Emma and Dexter's lives intersect in various ways over the next two decades, never quite romantically, as Emma works to become a writer and Dexter falls into a debauched showbiz life as a host of a late-night party show.
The structure allows for an entertaining timeline of fashion and drug use (from shiny shirts and club drugs to louche suits and cocaine), but it rapidly becomes claustrophobic. Despite a few running through-lines—Dexter's aimlessness, Emma's relationship with her sweet-but-unsuitable boyfriend—it's hard to invest in a movie that prioritizes structure over storytelling.
One Day is in no way the epic romance it strives to be, but if nothing else, Hathaway and Sturgess have decent chemistry and are very good looking. Its ending, though, which I am exercising great restraint in not spoiling, is so cheap, manipulative, and self-serious that it retroactively sours what few charms the film ever had.