*One Day (PG-13)
Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Kimball's Peak Three, Tinseltown
It's ridiculous, the concept behind the romantic comedy-drama One Day. The part of me that nitpicks logical absurdities — that song on the radio in that scene set in July 1995 didn't come out until August 1995! — realizes that the significance July 15 takes on in this story would make an astrologer incredulous. Arms should fold, head should shake: Nope. No way. No how.
So there's no logical way to defend the way One Day charmed me. As adapted by David Nicholls from his tear-jerking novel, it's hardly an example of clockwork plotting, but it does what you ask of a romance: It gives you two interesting people and a reason to hope that they wind up happy.
The story begins on July 15, 1988, when a bunch of young Brits are celebrating college graduation. Among them are Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dex Mayhew (Jim Sturgess), who've known each other casually but take the opportunity to hook up — almost. While their evening isn't consummated, they resolve to remain good friends. And over more than 20 years, we re-visit them every July 15 to see how that's working out.
What we've got is essentially a slightly more melancholy version of When Harry Met Sally — a tale of two best friends who need fate to knock their heads together before they can figure out whether they're perfect for each other. Naturally there are a variety of impediments. Often they're in different countries; Emma begins a long-term relationship with a would-be stand-up comedian (Rafe Spall); Dex marries a woman he gets pregnant (Romola Garai) and becomes a popular TV personality, alcoholic, addict and general dickhead.
Yet somehow their worlds almost always manage to intersect on St. Swithin's day — metaphorically significant, perhaps, for an old British rhyme about the summer weather, making it something of a Groundhog Day for portending things to come. July 15 becomes a day for weddings, having critical fights, confessing their mutual feelings at last and ... well, a few other significant things.
While some of the events could be attributed to the sentimental resonance of the date on future decisions, Nicholls pushes it just for the sake of a gimmick. If he just wants to tell the story of a relationship, the same-day device is unnecessary; if he wants to provide a snapshot of how a relationship looks on the same day every year, he's cheating.
Despite that, One Day works because of affection for the characters. Hathaway continues emerging as a genuine acting force, and Sturgess finds something decent in Dex's desire to maintain the friendship. Nicholls keeps the tone light and frisky throughout the first hour, allowing the charming chemistry to build between the two leads.
The plot takes a few mawkish turns in its third act, but One Day saves its smartest decision for last, as the narrative reverses course to show us the day after July 15, 1988 — the only non-July 15 day shown. It showcases the characters at their most endearing, at a pivotal moment when the connection between them could head in two very different directions, but it escapes the gimmick enough to show us that all the other days between Emma and Dex were just as important. I guess that's the way you get a cynical critic to suspend disbelief: Build a relationship strong enough that I can't help but care about all those other days.