Opens: Friday 8/19
Us Rating: ***
Idealistic Emma (Anne Hathaway) and playboy Dexter (Jim Sturgess) hook up on their last day at the University of Edinburgh, then launch a long-term friendship -- with occasional benefits.
Over the next two decades, they reunite to spar and spark every July 15, surviving bad jobs, failed relationships and alcoholic hazes. This smart, chatty romantic comedy has one obvious problem: The gorgeous Hathaway -- who starts out totally '80s with a bad perm and oversize eyeglasses -- is never quite believable as an ugly duckling on the way to her inevitable swan moment. Sturgess is more convincing as he ages, starting off as an easy-on-the-eyes university student, then relatively fit but graying at the end.
The film's most enjoyable sections feature the characters' least successful moments: Dex fails as a smarmy TV VJ, drunk on booze and ego, and Emma slogs through a job at a Mexican restaurant in London. While the story -- based on the 2009 bestseller -- sags in parts, overall it's an endearing, poignant look at two flawed people who learn to grow up.
-- THELMA ADAMS