Anne Hathaway as Emma
Jim Sturgess as Dexter
Tom Mison as Callum
Jodie Whittaker as Tilly
Rafe Spall as Ian
Patricia Clarkson as Alison
Ken Stott as Steven
Joséphine de La Baume as Marie
Heida Reed as Ingrid
Amanda Fairbank-Hynes as Tara
Gil Alma as Waiter
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Adapted by David Nicholls from his own best-selling novel, this is the story of Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and her close friend Dexter (Jim Sturgess), two people who meet at college and then spend the rest of their lives going in different directions as the movie revisits them every year on the same date, July 15, to show how their lives have progressed.
Having not read David Nicholls’ popular novel, we have to take this cinematic adaptation on face value that it’s able to capture the spirit of the book that so many people loved, especially since it was adapted by Nicholls himself. Certainly having two good-looking and skilled actors like Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess ups the potential for the film, as does having “An Education” director Lone Scherfig at the helm, so it’s kind of a shame when the movie never really delivers.
We first meet the main characters in 1988 as they’re graduating from university and they nearly have a drunken one night stand, but then we cut forward a year and he’s off to somewhere while she gets stuck working as a waitress at a cheesy restaurant. Every year on July 15, the two of them reconnect whether it’s on the phone or in person as she eventually becomes a schoolteacher and he becomes a TV presenter declared “the most annoying man on television” by the tabloids, Emma has given up on him but he still has hopes for them and she’s become his support system, the one true friend he can talk to in order to get through whatever obstacle he’s facing.
Granted, it’s fun watching both of the actors through the years as they’re dolled up in appropriate period dress and make-up, whether it’s showing them young and carefree or older and more seasoned, but the way the characters are introduced in such short bursts with 364-day gaps, it takes that much longer for you to care about them at all. The general conceit is that as we reach a new year, we ask ourselves will they or won’t they get back together? When they finally do, it feels so forced and unnatural it really doesn’t satisfy anyone hoping for the best… and things just get darker from there.
Jim Sturgess is excellent in a role that gives him a chance to show a lot of range over the course of Dexter’s life. Hathaway is good but it’s not quite as juicy a role, and at times, Emma isn’t particularly likeable either so when something quite extreme happens to her character, you might feel more relieved than bad. Even worse is the fact that Hathaway’s accent seems to drift somewhere between Liverpool and Scotland, something which won’t go over well with fans of Nicholls’ novel who questioned her casting. Even so, the best parts of the movie are the ones where the two of them are on screen together and just by its nature, that doesn’t happen that much. Like with “An Education,” the supporting cast is populated by terrific character actors who bring out the best from the two leads and make up for the fact that we seen them so little on screen together.
Lone Scherfig proves herself of being able to figure out a way to allow the difficult time jumps to flow fairly effortlessly; we could have seen this movie going a lot worse in the hands of a less capable director. Even so, much of the film feels emotionally manipulative, especially Rachel Portman’s score which seems to steal musical themes from other dramas. Apparently July 15, the day chosen for catching up with Emma and Dex, is the British holiday of St. Swithin’s Day, not that you’d know it by how rarely it’s mentioned over the course of the movie. It’s doubtful Americans would have any idea who St. Swithin is anyway, but it’s clearly something worth mentioning in the opening sequence, but rarely after that?
The Bottom Line
There have been stronger romantic dramas that have done a better job tugging at our heartstrings, and this one works about as well as Focus Features’ “Jane Eyre” earlier this year in that it’s a genuinely capable film that does its best with source material that may have not been as easy to translate to film as some imagined. Sturgess is great, Hathaway is less so, and ultimately, the more enjoyable high points don’t do enough to make up for a lot of serious lulls.