Dir. Lone Scherfig
A decade into her career, and you have to wonder if Anne Hathaway has some kind of librarian fixation. Not the MS-dewey-decimal librarians, mind you, rather the ones that look prim and resolved with hair packed tightly in a bun and large spectacles sitting askew in the crook of their noses before the enticing gentleman in the impeccable suit and swarthy beard stubble enters the picture and releases their spirits (and suddenly heaving bosoms) from their self-made prison of self-abnegation, releasing the delicate, frigid goose to become a sensual, exhilarated swan. As beautiful as she obviously is, she keeps trying to convince us she's somehow as homely and unappealing as a Newark gate agent at the beginning of a holiday weekend.
In her new film, she plays Emma, a darkly comic young Oxford student, who, on the night of her graduation in the late '80s, very nearly sleeps with a fetching young man named Dex (Jim Sturgeuss) of whom she has maintained a private crush for some time. Instead of drunken fooling about, they opt instead to sleep curled up next to one another, and thus begins a long-standing friendship that we check in on the same July 15 of each subsequent year, to see where they have gotten to in their lives and what they still may mean to each other. Over the course of the next 20 or so years, they initially head in very opposite directions -- with Dex initially becoming the obnoxious, drug-addled TV host of a late night party show on the BBC and poor Em first serving cheap Mexican fare to confused Londoners and then becoming a teacher -- before their lives take different trajectories and finally come into lockstep.
The film is all about these trajectories, the ways in which our lives criss-cross and swell and recede like the ocean at high-tide, but the film -- based closely on the popular novel by David Nicholls -- plays far too few notes in this particular symphony of self. While its true condensing more than 20 years into a two-hour movie requires deft visual shorthand, our initial impression of Dex, a pampered, immature priss (imagine a British Andrew McCarthy), serves to sum him up for approximately 85 percent of the film, and the same holds true for Em, who, as delightfully acerbic as she is, takes forever to come into her own -- in the meantime, she moves in with Ian (Rafe Spall), a dreadful, gummy, would-be comedian who stinks up her lavatory and actually uses the word "methinks" in a sentence -- and sees something remarkable in Dex, that, frankly, isn't necessarily apparent to the film audience. To put it another way, the only two people in 20 years that hold any real sway in Em's life are Ian and Dex, as if those would be the only choices available to someone as stunning and radiant as a character played by Hathaway.
As in The Devil Wore Prada, Ms. H would have us believe her to be utterly uninspiring and unimpressive until she transforms, butterfly-like, from her cocoon of ugly clothes and thick glasses into a Hollywood A-lister. This isn't to say she's not good in the role -- she seems to capture the character's rueful self-examination and wry humor perfectly well, in fact -- but we can say it's not the only hugely unlikely outcome the film asks us to embrace.