This bittersweet love story examines the ups and downs of the ever-changing relationship between two people over 20 years. Love, friendship and the different push and pull factors that influence wants, dreams and ambitions come into play as Anne Hathaway’s Em and Jim Sturgess’ Dex ride the emotional rollercoaster of their adult lives. On film, there’s a gimmicky feeling about the concept of skipping through the years on the very same day whether Em and Dex are together or not, but this is the premise that David Nicholls has conceived for his bestselling 2009 novel, which he has now adapted for the screen.
While the film has its charms and poignant moments, it is easy to become detached from the characters and the state of their relationship when we are only spending one day in their company in each year. The magnetism that links them is weakened, impacting on our emotional response. It’s a somewhat disappointing follow-up for Lone Scherfig’s first film since her highly lauded 2009 film, An Education.
The story begins on July 15, 1988, which we are told is St Swithin’s Day, the English equivalent of Groundhog Day, when the weather patterns make its predictions for the next 40 days. It is Graduation Day and Em and Dex officially meet for the first time in the college courtyard. She has noticed him before – and obviously has a crush – but he is oblivious to that. She is bespectacled and unsure of herself; he is confident and charming. They are destined not to become lovers on that first night, but spend the night lying in each others arms. When July 15 comes around again, she is moving into a flat that smells of onions and disappointment, as he flits off to India. They chat on the phone like best friends.
Over the years their BFF friendship continues, although we know they are always destined to be more than friends. Em resigns herself to life’s disappointments, working as a waitress and giving up on her dream to write as she becomes involved with an unfunny comedian (Rafe Spall). Dex meanwhile, becomes an obnoxious late night TV host, a thoughless womanizer and disappointment to his mother (Patricia Clarkson). When Em and Dex occasionally get together, their banter is suggestive but their friendship remains platonic. Until…. One day. But life’s trajectory is not straight and as Dex’s fortunes spiral downwards, Em’s blossoms.
The chemistry between Hathaway and Sturgess never properly ignites, although the early flirtatious scenes are the most endearing. Due to its fragmented structure, the dramatic arc never seem satisfying enough, although Rachel Portman’s beautiful score weaves a melodic rainbow through the exposition.
First published in the Sun-Herald