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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: One Day

One Day (Two and a Half Stars)
 U.K.: Lone Scherfig, 2011

Few things in life can haunt or obsess us more than the romances that could have happened but didn’t, or depress us more than the romances that did happen and somehow didn‘t work out.

One Day, a romantic British film (part drama, part comedy) adapted by David Nicholls from his novel, and directed by Lone Scherfig — is about one of the former, that maybe turns into one of the latter, but that in any case leaves us at the end with that sad feeling of wistful regret that some of us never get over.
The couple involved in One Day are Jim Sturgess as Dexter Mayhew, a sexy apolitical playboy from an affluent background and Anne Hathaway as Emma Morley, a brainy, political working girl from humbler origins, who meet and nearly come together on July 15, 1988, after graduating from the University of Edinburgh. Missing consummation, they become best platonic friends for life, and thereafter, for the next two decades covered by the story, they meet again or experience memorable events, on many subsequent July 15ths, while we move from one crisis in their lives to another, always falling on the same St. Swithin’s Day, always pushing them forward a little closer to further romantic complications and bestsellerdom. Or perhaps not.
Whoah. Nicholls’ very popular novel, which I have not read (and probably won’t) uses this semi-Same Time, Next Year device as its main structural principle and plot engine, and apparently the book sold it to many enthusiastic paying literary customers.
Yet what sense does it make? As Dex and Em, hedonistic wastrel and the good woman he misses, hop from one July 15 to the next, we sometimes find ourselves in the midst of some pretty drastic changes in our main couple’s lives. Dex has some early TV on-camera stardom, spoiled by egotism and addiction, she rises from hard knocks to literary success, and both of them marry, unwisely. But sometimes, on that very day, July 15, some crucial, life-changing event takes place for one or the other or both, something that shocks them or sets them on different paths.
Think a bit. Recall the crucial life-changing events in your own life. Did they all take place on the same day? Did even a few of them share a common date, especially if it’s not a birthday or a major holiday, or in this case, maybe the time-crossed couple’s yen to get together and remember? Why then is this mysterious calendar hex happening to Dex and Em? Furthermore, why don’t they begin to get a little spooked, as major revelations or dire consequences keep accumulating each scary new July the 15th?
Might they consider just sleeping all day every July 15 to avoid whatever chastening truth or major catastrophe fate and the calendar have in store? Are they cursed? Are they playthings of fate? Prisoners of successive St. Swithin‘s Days, just as Bill Murray was prisoner of the same Groundhog Day over and over? Maybe there was some explanation for this anomaly, but I missed it (sorry), and it bothered me for the whole running time, and afterwards, and bothers me now.
Since the movie basically made no sense to me, I felt alienated from all of its would-be poignant or memorable happenings, though I was pleased at its literacy, pleased by its sometime intelligence, pleased by its alert direction (the smart ungloomy Dane Ms. Scherfig of An Education), even pleased at times by its attractive but not necessarily well-matched costars, Ms. Hathaway and Mr. Sturgess, as they stumbled ever July 15thward.
There are good supporting actors: the very active Patricia Clarkson pulling some heartstrings as Dexter’s dying mother and Ian Spall (Timothy’s son) as Em’s hapless comedian of a husband. And there’s another fine score by the prolific Rachel Portman. By themselves, the film’s first and last scenes, and the flashback coda, are touching. The whole thing might have worked for me, or at least worked better, if they’d just hopped from year to year, lighting on whatever day was most significant that year (not necessarily the dreaded July 15th).
But they didn’t. I wonder why. I wish they had.
Listen: Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It’s July 15.
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon