Based on the book by David Nicholls, Netflix’s serialized version of this hit follows our star-crossed lovers as they meet, collide, repel, and repeat through the years on the single day of July 15. It starts as they graduate college and ends, well, comparisons to “The Notebook” are apt.
But before they get together, Emma and Dex spend a lot of time growing up, becoming best friends who inspire each other to be better, as their mutual attraction simmers underneath. Here, the series format does an excellent job of making both our leads lived-in people, something the 2011 film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess didn’t quite succeed in doing. Woodall’s “Sexy Dexy” is genuinely charming as the golden boy whose life is indeed too easy until it isn’t. It’s clear why some (including Emma) are so drawn to him while others are repelled.
Meanwhile, casting a woman of color as Emma further underlines the differences in the two’s social stations. She may graduate with the grades, but tough economic times are ahead for the aspiring writer looking for her voice. Mod inhabits her various transformations and compromises, lighting up when Dexter’s in the frame but not letting him define her either (until, perhaps, the very end).
Starting in 1988 and continuing for decades, “One Day” resists some of the pitfalls of pieces set in its period with costumes that feel true to the era but not distracting. The production also does a good job of aging its characters gently, taking them past their early twenties with subtle changes in their faces, styles, and mannerisms.
But where it really excels is telling this intense love story of improbable equals. Emma and Dexter are of different races, genders, social classes, and temperaments. But they find a way to meet each other on equal footing, despite society valuing one more than the other depending on the season. And the story construction mirrors that for most of the first 13 episodes, giving their interiority, their sexual adventures, and their relationships outside of each other, all equal weight. The result is a compelling portrayal of two people’s rocky pathway as they go from strangers to best friends to partners.