I really wanted to like this film. I really, really did. The book is one of my all-time favourites, and possibly the one book that truly feels like a real life happening contained within its pages. Bringing this beloved couple to life would obviously be a challenge, but with such a strong source material, Nicholls' own source mtaterial, I thought he would have done a better job.
The trailers didn't rile me like it did so many others. Hathaway's casting didn't rile me. Being such a big fan of Nicholls, I reserved all judgement until I sat in the cinema screen this afternoon. Despite strong focus and effort, I couldn't like the first half an hour of the film, and already began to consign the film to the 'bad adaptation' pile.
The acting - superb. Sturgess blew me away with his take on Dexter, though I thought the script seemed to be changed to mellow him out for a cinema audience - there was no real evidence of drink-driving when he visited his parents, no real danger as he looked after the baby, and a very narrow and brief exposition of his 'downfall' into drugs and booze. Rafe Spall and Patricia Clarkson were fantastic in their respective roles, and played each of their parts just right. Now Hathaway, I do admire as an actress. In everything I have seen her in, she has blown me away - despite 'Love and Other Drugs' being an apalling film, she shone, and made me feel real sympathy for her. Now here, her acting was spot on. Underplayed, subtle, funny and strong, she nailed it. However, there is something about her face which doesn't strike me as Emma Morley. She is just Much. Too. Pretty. And the accent really was dreadful - northern at the best of times, faux-British at average and slightly American at its worst.
The settings were changed to suggest some kind of British/France companionship or blanket travel-ban - what happened to Greece, the maze at the wedding, and what happened to Dexter's proper gap year? (On this note, what happened to Dexter's letter? Perhaps the most perceptive and likely happenings in the book?) The settings became drab and dull, save for Edinburgh and its fairy lights, and Dexter's store at the end, full of bright and fresh produce.
In the book, the chapter sequence is interesting, notable, but not isolating, because we hear interior thoughts and summaries of the year. Not only were the first few years in the film given about a minute each of screen-time, but the entire film felt like a best-of compilation of Dexter and Emma's lives. Whilst I appreciated the few lines which were left in from the book, there was not enough substance in the words to truly allow us to emote with the characters, particularly Dexter, who was unlikeable throughout the entire first half of the film. Whilst I do not put this down to Nicholl's failings as a screenwriter, Scherfig (the director) should have recognised this fault, seeing as it is arguably Mulligan's characters endearment to the audience which made 'An Education' so popular.
Another issue (can you tell I didn't like it?) was that lines of dialogue seemed to be taken from the book without thinking of their place in the film. 'Isn't Suki loud?' didn't make sense in the context of a film version who was, really, a wallflower, and the pregnancy line from Dexter seemed to come out of nowhere. It seems lines were taken for their poignancy or comic value, before distinguishing book from film. On that note, I think there could have been a few more 'non-book' lines, for the audience who were familiar with the source material, it looked like a radio-play reading of the book. And this WAS Nicholl's fault.
I did, however, enjoy the last part of the film. It has been said that Emma should have died a death which was not her fault (she could have looked for the truck), but the kind of suddenness and shocking nature of LIFE was, I thought well exhibited. Their first St Swithins Day at graduation was well-filmed, well-acted and quite beautiful really, as was Ian and Dex's confrontation. It was however a shame that Dex's scene with his daughter had odd dialogue and a child with earphones in 'You know what you are' was more sinister than supportive, as was removing his hand from her lap in the car. Emma's 'wake up' being played over Dex's face on the screen made the entire thing feel like a dream, cheapening the film and story, in my opinion. If planned out, this was an ill-conceived and unsupported idea, and if noone in editing noticed the possibility of how it would look, then they need to be out of a job.
In all, a poor adaptation and mediocre film by a team who should have known better. It is possible, and likely, that the film format just does not suit the complexities of character found in Nicholl's book, of which the depth of interior feelings and monologues makes the characters your real-life friends. At best, Hathaway and Sturgess are a fun way to spend two hours - hardly a film which I would come back to.