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‘One Day’ Review, Netflix’s hottest Rom-Com

A critical review of Netflix’s new Rom-Com ‘One-Day’ with an analysis of race and class themes. Is One Day worth a watch?

Laptop screening Netflix with mug stating "just one more episode"
Shutterstock: Nicolas Maderna

Netflix’s hottest release will melt your heart and send you into an emotional spiral. The beautiful 14-part rom-com series ‘One Day’ is based on executive producer David Nicholls’ best-selling novel with the same title. You can stream ‘One Day’ on Netflix now.

The series begins on the night before Emma and Dexter commence “the first day of [their] properly adult lives.” It’s graduation night at Edinburgh University for the class of 1988. The pair meet for the first time and come close, but never engage in a one-night stand. Instead, they decide to be friends – a term which never feels quite adequate for the connection they share.

From there, each episode shows Emma and Dexter in a new year on the same day, St. Smithers Day. By watching only one day a year we constantly crave more moments of the two together. Eagerly, the audience becomes a part of this chaotic turbulence of nostalgia, anticipation, and hopelessness. We watch the two fall together, fall apart, make mistakes, and eventually learn as we wistfully endure a ‘will-they, wont-they’ decade-long romance.

Picture of Emma and Dexter smiling in Rom-Com series One Day.
Netflix’s hottest Rom-Com. Credit: YouTube/’One-Day’ official trailer.

‘One Day’s’ Relation to the Rom-Com Genre

With its dependence on ‘what-ifs’ and its employment of the recently popular ‘friends to lovers’ trope, ‘One Day’ fits neatly into the rom-com genre. However, it could win awards for the most annoying show. The show may exhibit the longest slow-burn romance of all time.

This slow-burn romance doesn’t feel like an episode filler, but rather a technique used to highlight a larger theme of the unstoppable march of time. Conventionally, rom-coms’ grip on reality are limited with time being seen as a separate entity to the all-conquering love. However, ‘One Day’ scarily forces reality onto viewers: time is ever-moving. As time is ever-moving audiences are forced to accept how hopes and dreams easily turn into regrets and longing for the past.

The show further disregards rom-coms’ arguable tropes of impossibility and cringe-worthiness. Instead, ‘One Day’ employs Emma and Dexter with undeniable chemistry paired with dry and ironic humor. This allows even the weakest-stomached viewers to ‘aww’ over Emma and Dexter’s love affair. The convention of impossibility is limited as the show disregards conventions of grand love gestures present in ‘10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Say Anything.’ This is replaced by a romance focused on the little things. ‘One Day’s’ representation of love is beautiful in its poetic simplicity and realism.  

Theme of Class in ‘One Day’

Throughout the series, we see how wildly different the two young adults are. Emma epitomizes the anxieties of young working-class northern women, and Dexter the naivety of southern upper-class posh boys. Dexter therefore is everything that Emma dislikes. However, Emma acts as humility for Dexter and Dexter becomes a reminder for Emma of her depth and talent. Their ability to truly and wholly accept each other, paired with their undeniable chemistry, creates an effortless crossing of class boundaries.

Therefore, class tensions are weaved throughout the limited series in a way that is commendable. The theme of class never feels like an afterthought or lazy social commentary to make the show “relevant.”

Theme of Race in ‘One Day’

However, I agree with ‘The Spinoff’ that there is a lack of focus on Emma’s race in the show. The only mention of race was Dexter asking if Emma’s lack of sexual activity was for religious reasons. From then on, there is no mention of Emma as the storyline dominates with a focus on Dexter’s family. Emma’s family is somewhat of a secret with her parents only appearing on side calls and brief mentions. However, talking about her family’s immigrant status could open up conversations and begin positive immigrant representations on screen.

This lack of racial address may be problematic due to how intertwined issues of class and race are. Also, this makes the show feel somewhat inauthentic due to the prominence of racial issues in the late 80s and early 90s. In reality, would Dexter and Emma face backlash for their romance or friendship? How does Emma’s immigrant family impact her sense of self? Are Emma’s aspirations limited due to her race?

Emma in Nicholls’ novel and the 2011 film adaption was white. Therefore, this lack of racial address may be excused by a lack of desire to deviate from the original story. However, with a budget of $15 million, Netflix could have spent more time on Emma’s background and family. It may be argued this lack of racial exploration may make the show complacent in silencing women of color’s struggle.

Ambika Mod as Emma Morley

Actress Ambika Mod pictured in her role as Emma in Rom-Com One Day.
Ambika Mod as Emma in the limited series of ‘One-Day.’ Credit: YouTube/’One Day’ Official trailer.

A product of Indian immigrants, Ambika Mod engages in conversations about race in relation to her role as Emma.

The 28-year-old secured the role after her acting debut on BBC’s drama ‘This Is Going To Hurt.’ With key parallels to Emma, Mod has talked to Glamour and The Guardian about how as a woman of color, she feels she has more to prove compared to white actors. Mod rejected the role initially as she was unable to picture herself as a romantic lead. As a fan of the book, Mod believed she could was unable to fill a ‘white role.’ Mod’s imposter syndrome may have originated from not having any South Asian women representation in romantic comedies growing up. She suggests that her race does not fit the archetype of a romantic lead. This highlights how much representation matters so all races can be inspired to follow their dreams.

Mod delights now over her choice of accepting the role. She is now the representation she wishes she had.

The Man Behind Dexter Mayhew

Leo Woodall pictured playing Dexter Mayhew in Rom-Com One Day.
Leo Woodall pictured playing Dexter. YouTube/’One Day’ official trailer.

Mod’s co-star Woodall plays Dexter, a character he describes as “deeply flawed but ultimately decent” in The Guardian. 27-year-old Woodall comes from a family of actors. Woodall saw this role as an exciting challenge, but continues to feel a personal pressure to live up to his family’s success. The breakthrough role for Leo’s career follows his trend of playing angsty misunderstood men. Woodall previously played this character type in the second series of ‘White Lotus.’ Audiences have swooned in admiration for Woodall, yet The Guardian explains how Woodhall would prefer solely success in acting rather than celebrity status.  

The Infamous Film Adaptation

The success of ‘One Day’ has not been achieved by a first-time accident. David Nicholls’ best-selling novel was previously turned into a film adaption, released in 2011.

However, this film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway has only a few favorable reviews, with many differing merely over disinterest or utter disdain for the film. Hathaway stars as Emma and Jim Sturgess as Dexter in the film adaption. This version of ‘One Day’ is told by ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ to lack the emotional depth and insight present in the book. There was a lot of critique on the film’s contribution to rom-com with comments on flat sexual tension and lack of humor. Lots of debate was also held on Hathaway’s accent with many seeing it as a strong weakness, meaning class tensions were not addressed successfully. Nicholls was involved with the film adaption as a screenwriter, yet in Netflix’s limited series he is an executive producer, alongside Roanna Beno, Jude Liknaitzky and Nicole Taylor. Perhaps that’s a reason for its success.

If ‘One Day’ has got you craving more of the rom-com genre, see our latest article here on the best rom-coms to ease your cravings.

Written By

2nd year Journalism and Communication student from Nottingham UK studying at Cardiff University. Currently on study exchange to the University of Otago in New Zealand.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Michael

    May 21, 2024 at 7:08 am

    A beautifully written critique…I whole heartedly agree that the lack of racial comment or discussion seems at odds with the time….however Olivias explanation of the books heroine as white clears this up but doesn’t explain the reasoning for nor either choosing a white actress or taking the opportunity to delve into the tension their interracial relationship would have provoked.

    A beautiful series none the less and we maybe need to simply remember it is a love story.

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