A gimmick that sort of worked in a novel becomes an obstacle that trips up this love story based on best-seller by David Nicholls. It is better at telling us to care about the two characters than it is at making us feel anything for the couple who stumble their way toward each other for almost 20 years.
The gimmick is that we check in on Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dex (Jim Sturgess) every year on the same day, July 15, known in England as St. Swithin’s Day, less a holiday than a Groundhog Day-style harbinger of the weather. So instead of following them on days when especially significant or illuminating events happen, we see whatever happens to be going on each July 15. Sometimes it is an important moment but most often it is more indicative than revealing. In the book we had their internal perspective on what was going on. Dex’s dead-on assessment of Emma’s room in the first chapter was as revealing about himself as it was about her. It was so astute that it made up for his cluelessness about himself and frequent boorishness for many years to come. On screen, even Hathaway’s radiance and Sturgess’ charm cannot persuade us that these two people would have stayed in touch, much less been dear friends, over decades.
The gifted director Lone Sherfig (“An Education“) resists the temptation to throw in a lot of signifiers of time passing, but inevitably we get distracted by the shifting hairstyles and conversion from typewriters to laptops and phone booths to cell phones. Covering 20 days over two decades means that there is very little time for each update, and without the interior monologues that gave the novel’s characters more substance, it feels more like a perfume commercial than a story. There is more wit in the interplay of the digits of the passing years with the action of the scene than in most of the interactions between Emma and Dex. Nicholls, who adapted his book for the screen, is too attached to details that do not work in a movie. It would have been much better to jettison as many as half of the days to give us a chance to catch our breath and see how the friendship actually works. There is too much of Dex’s “VH1 Behind the Music”-style descent into alcohol, drugs, and one-night stands (even in the book, he seemed hardly worthy of the loyal and principled Emma) and too little of the characters around them who are supposed to have been an influence. And there is much too little of actual events. It is Emma’s experiences as a teacher that lead her to find her voice as a writer. How do I know that? From reading the book. It all feels rushed and abrupt and unsupported, and the ending feels like a maudlin cheat.
Parents should know that this film has almost-R-worthy explicit sexual references and non-explicit situations, brief male and female nudity, drinking and alcohol and drug abuse, sad deaths, a fatal traffic accident, and strong language
Family discussion: Why did Emma and Dex become friends when they had so little in common? Why was Ian’s visit to Dex important? Why did Dex’s mother say that he would someday become a better person?
If you like this, try: “An Education” (by the same director) and the wonderful “And Now My Love”