What a difference a day makes.
So goes the song, anyway. Just one day—just one moment in a day—can have a huge impact on our lives and the world around us. Most of us, for instance, know the significance of Dec. 25. July 4. Sept. 11. July 15.
July 15. You know, the day Emma and Dexter, two freshly minted college grads, first met and nearly slept together but thought better about it and became best friends.
July 15. You know, that day Emma found herself wasting her life away at a Mexican restaurant in London while Dexter was beginning to make a name for himself in the entertainment biz as the most annoying man on the telly.
July 15. You know, the day Emma and Dexter had that disastrous dinner together. When Emma was trying to figure out whether she loved the man she was living with and Dexter kept flirting with all the other girls and sneaking off every 10 minutes to use the restroom—suggesting to Emma that he was either doing cocaine or suffering from a bout of dysentery.
July 15. You know, the day they renewed their friendship at another friend's wedding. The day Emma was vivacious and charming and full of confidence after receiving a "tiny advance" to write a book. The day Dexter was out of a job, struggling and yet likable again—only a month away from getting hitched.
You know, that day.
In One Day, moviegoers pop into the lives of Emma and Dexter on a whole bunch of July 15s, spread over more than 20 years. We see them grow and make mistakes, succeed and fail. We watch them fall in and out of love … sometimes with each other. We see how July 15 becomes a day that drastically changes these two people's lives forever.
Emma, played by the almost always charming Anne Hathaway, gets top billing. But in reality this story is about Dexter and his two-decade search for goodness—not outside himself, but within. During the course of the film, he transforms from shallow grad to all-out cad to a sorta sad but infinitely improved man. And it's his story—which upends the myth that wealth and success makes us happier and therefore better people—that gives One Day its moral moorings.
Host of a popular music show when he's in his 20s, Dexter spends most of his time drunk—even when visiting his dying mother. "Right now I worry that you're not very nice anymore," she confesses to him. And, when Dexter leaves, his father tells him that he'll lock him out of the family house if he ever shows up in that condition again.
The visit wounds him, but not enough to change his trajectory. As Dexter the star climbs higher, Dexter the person sinks deeper. It's only when his showbiz career goes kaput that he can begin the painful process of learning what life is really about. He essentially starts over, getting a job from an old college friend making salads. He marries and becomes a father (not exactly in that order), learning the joys of being a dad (even as his wife cheats on him). Most critically, he renews his acquaintance with Emma, and eventually they fall in love. And while their relationship has some problematic points to be sure, it also illustrates that to be a good person, we sometimes need good people around us.
[Spoiler Warning] Dex and Emma get married. And when Emma dies in an accident, Dexter nearly falls apart. His father, in his own gruff way, comes to his rescue. "Try to live your life as if Emma was still here," he tells Dex. And when Dex expresses doubt that he can, his now-widowed father says, "Of course you can. What do you think I've been doing for the past 10 years?"
In the end, Dexter does just that, staying true to the person he was with Emma (rather than the drunken, out-of-control sap he was without her). "She made you decent," Emma's former boyfriend, Ian, tells Dex, "and in return you made her so happy."
A wedding takes place inside a church. References are made to July 15 being St. Swithin's Day. Dex comments on the yin-yang symbol tattooed on his ankle.
Dex and Emma nearly have sex the first day they know each other, with only Emma's awkwardness preventing the consummation. (They wind up cuddling in bed.) A few years later, they take a trip through France—and Emma makes a few conditions on their traveling together: no nudity, no skinny-dipping. But it takes them less than a full day to break both of those rules. And we briefly see Emma naked from a distance as she hops in the water. The camera also spies Dex's bare bum.
Years later, after Dexter learns that his wife, Sylvie, was cheating on him and the two split, he does sleep with Emma—a night Emma characterizes as pity sex. Since that encounter doesn't take place on July 15, we don't see it, but we do hear about it. And Dex and Emma live together for a while before getting married. (We see them begin foreplay, kissing with her unbuttoning his shirt.)
Dexter's sexual past is robust, to say the least. One night while he's talking with Emma on the phone, we see, from the side and rear, a naked girl balance herself on his bed. We hear at a wedding how he slept with nearly every girl there. He flirts shamelessly and kisses several girls during the course of the movie. And later, after Emma's gone, he tries to pick up a woman at a bar.
Emma is not so promiscuous, but that doesn't mean she has qualms about premarital sex. When Dex helps her move to London, he says that her bed could probably tell some stories. "Short stories," she quips. "Horror stories." She lives with her boyfriend, Ian, for several years before she breaks it off.
She cautions Dex that when he's in France to teach English, he shouldn't sleep with his students. "It's unethical and predictable," she says. He ignores this advice. References are made to masturbation and orgies allegedly attended by Dex. Scantily clad women dance in cages on his television show. We see Sylvie sitting in a negligee on the bed while her lover (she's cheating on Dex) wears a towel.
Emma and Dex accidentally wind up on a nudist beach in France, and we see a number of elderly folks stroll about.
Drunk, Dexter gets punched in the face when he tries to pick up a lady in a bar. He finds his way back to his place and passes out in the hallway, face bloodied and bruised. His horrified daughter finds him.
Dex plays a party game with Sylvie's family when they're dating—a game that involves hitting people on the head with a rolled up newspaper. That wouldn't be worth calling out as violent except for the fact that when Dex and Sylvie play, Dex accidentally swats Sylvie in the face before she's ready, sending her crashing into a coffee table and bloodying her nose.
Someone on a bicycle is hit and killed by a truck. (We see the body in the street.) Dex cracks a joke about shooting Emma.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. We hear "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "bloody," b-llocks," "pr‑‑k" and "w-nker." God's name is misused about a dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The first time Emma and Dex meet, they're drunk. And for a good 10 years or so, Dex rarely stops drinking. We see him make inebriated calls to Emma, visit his parents when he's blurry-eyed and sweaty, and down certain drinks that he hopes will sober him up enough to go to work. For three years of their relationship, Emma doesn't remember a time when he's been sober. There are also indications that Dex, at the height of his show business career, was using cocaine.
But Dexter's drinking and suspected drug use isn't glamorized. He's often humiliated while under the influence. Kids steal his clothes when he's skinny-dipping, for instance. And his parents pour down their disapproval on him. The film casts no judgments, however, on anyone else's drinking. Rarely does a character enter a social situation without drink in hand, be it wine or champagne or vodka or tequila.
Several people smoke.
Other Negative Elements
Emma walks into the bathroom while Ian's sitting on the toilet. He asks her to bring him some matches. When Dexter and Emma skinny-dip, she asks him if he's "having a wee."
In the final scene we see Dexter walking up a familiar hillside with his daughter, Jasmine. It's the hillside on which he and Emma spent their first day together. When Jasmine asks her father if he misses Emma, Dexter smiles and says yes: She was his best friend.
"Who's your best friend now?"
Without a pause he says to the little girl, "You are, of course." And we know it's true.
One Day is a redemption story of sorts—one in which our hero only becomes a hero in the end, when he realizes that his life isn't really his. You could even call it a movie about growing up—not a "coming of age" story, where the protagonist gets drunk and has sex and goes out on his own, but what adulthood is really about … shoving aside all that stuff and moving into a sense of maturity and responsibility.
But to get to that place, One Day spends most of its time in an immature wasteland, full of sex and booze and bad behavior—squeezing into its PG-13 rating by the slimmest of margins.
The film's not even two hours long—a small part of one day, really. But if it tells us anything at all, it tells us that these moments matter. What happens in the space of one day can stick with us—and not always in a good way—for a lifetime.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Anne Hathaway as Emma; Jim Sturgess as Dexter; Rafe Spall as Ian; Patricia Clarkson as Alison; Ken Stott as Steven; Romola Garai as Sylvie; Emilia Jones as Jasmine
Lone Scherfig ( An Education)
August 19, 2011
November 29, 2011