Modern European media revives the romance genre

'One Day’ uses English charm and classic tropes to birth a new generation of rom-com lovers

Courtesy of Netflix



David Nicholl’s 2009 novel “One Day” has returned as a limited television series, revisiting a charming and heartbreaking love story spanning over 20 years. This slow burn romance revives the dying genre of rom-com, using realism to modernize classic romance tropes and put other current romance media to shame.

“One Day” follows the lives of Emma Morley (Ambika Mod) and Dexter Mayhew (Leo Woodall), whose lives connect after meeting during a party for their college graduation. They maintain sporadic contact, and though they enter new relationships throughout their friendship, the two have a bond that always seems to border on more. Though it’s no secret that the romance genre is dying, “One Day” takes a page out of beloved movies from the past and fleshes out the entire cast instead of attempting to box the complicated relationship of Dexter and Emma into sensationalistic tropes.

While Mod and Woodall give stunning and heartbreakingly realistic performances, so much of what drives the emotions of “One Day” is its side characters, specifically Emma’s on-and-off partner Ian (Jonny Weldon) and Leo’s mother Alison (Essie Davis). Upon seeing this equilibrium of talent between the leads and the ensemble, I was reminded of a rom-com essential, Marc Webb’s “(500) Days Of Summer” (2009).

One of the most memorable lines from the movie doesn’t come from either of the leads but from a side character, saying, “Robyn is better than the girl of my dreams. She’s real.”

Beyond side character performance, “One Day” works because of its niche casting. Akin to how Jospeh Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel weren’t blockbuster actors while filming. “(500) Days of Summer”, the leads of “One Day” weren’t well-known upon casting, allowing the audience to relate and sympathize with the story more. Thematically, the series’ understanding of the persistence of love despite obstacles also reads very similarly to Wong Kar Wai’s “Chungking Express,” which focuses on the spontaneity of love and its unpredictability, while grounding itself in reality with niche actors. “One Day” also shares these thematic similarities with Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” (2004), a story of two people who reconvene after sharing a night in Vienna together. Though these films use popular tropes such as star-crossed lovers and right place, wrong time, they allow for characters to grow outside of these tropes.

Most modern romantic movies and TV shows choose to work against the precedents set by older romantic media. Will Gluck’s “Anyone but You,” which boasted itself as the movie to bring back the rom-com, fell flat due to its sensationalist casting, as seen with the obnoxious fanfare between Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell. This newfound trend in overly formulaic characters has been detrimental to the health of the rom-com, as it does not allow for the story to further itself beyond basic categories. And thanks to the way they put pigeonhole characters, the most recent book-to-film adaptations, such as “The Kissing Booth” and “After”, are pieces of lazy writing that read as bad fanfiction. Because “One Day” cements itself in its realism, allowing Emma and Dexter to grow separately with wonderfully distinct quirks and faults and thus, its ability to grow beyond the “right person, wrong time” trope, it successfully adapts the book into a series.

While most modern rom-coms focus on the leads’ show-stealing, very public kiss accompanied with fireworks, “One Day” focuses on building intimacy with longing gazes and fleeting touches, making Emma and Dexter’s relationship feel more real. Fortunately, “One Day” is not alone in revolutionizing romantic media, as other European limited series have juxtaposed themselves in a similar structure. Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald’s “Normal People” (2020) also use niche, quirky casting and an ensemble of fleshed-out side characters to drive home the relationship between the main characters, Connell and Marianne, as well as the show’s emphasis on the complexity of human relationships by emphasizing subtlety.

Netflix’s adaptation of “One Day” is a once-in-a-lifetime watch, warming and shattering your heart at all the right places — and truly brings back the fluttering butterflies that rom-coms once stirred in their viewers.



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