'One Day': Should the ending have been changed?

One-Day

Image Credit: Giles Keyte

 To be fair, I knew it was coming. Having already read David Nicholls’ charming 2009 international best-seller One Day, about the ups and downs of friends Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew’s relationship over the span of 20 years, I knew the movie was also going to end on a major — if not pretty shocking — downer. For those of you who have not read the novel or seen the adaptation starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (and it seems like that’s plenty of you), beware of MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

It would be an understatement to say I was disappointed with the ending of One Day. After nearly two decades of putting up with Dexter’s flip-flopping feelings (all while she was stuck in a lukewarm relationship with Ian), Emma finally got him to settle down, only to find that she couldn’t have a child with him (mind you, he already got to experience that joy with his first wife Sylvie) and then… she dies?! City of Angels-style, no less: Emma was hit by a vehicle while riding her bike. To me, the ending seemed grossly unfair to Emma (hadn’t she suffered enough?) and a bit of a cop-out, really. Why couldn’t this story about the complexities of friendship and love avoid becoming a weepy melodrama? Granted, life isn’t always that nice and fair to us. Nicholls’ book felt light, smart, and sweet throughout — but when Emma died, it suddenly felt sad and schlocky.

So when I first found out One Day was being made into a movie, I began to hope the film’s writers would commit the ultimate Hollywood sin and change the ending. (Gasp!) I know, it sounds crazy, but, loving Nicholls’ characters, I found myself wishing Emma and Dexter would find their happily ever after on the big screen. Hollywood could have made it happen, right?! Of course, had the film’s writers altered it, it likely would have caused as much ire as the My Sister’s Keeper adaptation, which delivered a shiny, happy ending that was dramatically different than the final pages of Jodi Picoult’s beloved book. In a way, adapting One Day was something of a lose-lose situation from the get-go. If writers had changed the ending, they’d delight some fans of the book (myself included), but others would leave the theaters seriously miffed. (Many in my screening, however, seemed upset with the original ending — when Emma was hit, gasps echoing through the theater were louder than the film itself.)

I’m curious to know what you thought of the ending though, PopWatchers. Had you already read the book and hoped they would change it, or were you relieved they kept it as is? If you hadn’t read One Day, were you genuinely shocked by the ending? Did it bother you or do you think it will rank high among fellow doomed love story classics like Titanic and The Notebook? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

Read more:
‘One Day’ review
Watch:’One Day’ trailer
‘Water for Elephants’ ending: Was it what you were expecting?


Comments (186 total) Add your comment
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  • J.D.

    When I got to the part in the book where she died, I almost threw the book across the room. I wanted them to have that happy ending. I can honestly say this was one time when I would have been grateful to Hollywood if they changed the ending for the movie.

    • Ange

      Funny you say that, I *did* throw the book across the room, but not before yelling “NO!”.

      • Kaiulani

        I was on an airplane when I read the ending, so I couldn’t throw it, plus it was on my Kindle. However, I too felt very betrayed by the ending and refuse to see the movie. Sure life isn’t fair and people do die, but I would rather have a few hours of fantasy then be reminded that real life can be cruel. Plus if anyone was going ot die, it should have been Dexter. He was such a jerk for 99% of the story.

      • C

        Yeah, when I got to that point in the story it took ever ounce of self control I had to not throw my Kindle onto the Uptown 1 train tracks.

      • EK

        I read “One Day” for my book club and finished while on a business trip, alone in my hotel room, which made her death extra depressing. I had to re-read that page a few times for it to sink in. And when my fiance was reading the book he kept saying how much he liked it, but when he got to that part, he shouted and came running out of our room.

      • I was on a train

        when I read the pages, but came as close to yelling at an inanimate object in public as I’m ever likely to again. This ending totally changed how I felt about the book and is the primary reason why I have NO interest in seeing the movie. Call me a sap.

      • P

        I loved this book until the end! I have trouble recommending it to anyone because the ending frustrates me so much!I am an Air Force and single at present .I need a woman who can love me back ..I also uploaded my hot photos on U’niformedM’ate .C óM under the name of flyer212..It’s the largest and best club for seeking Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Police Force, and the admirers of those who wear the uniform.I just hope you don’t mind me being a soldier …Please Check it out!I’m serious.

      • Ghost Writer

        Killing off characters is fine. Killing them off EXACTLY the way another writer has is being a copycat. Glad you brought up the CITY OF ANGELS thing. My very thought. Cheesy, weepy endng = meh.

      • K

        Same here!

      • Hate the ending

        Loved the book until Emma died. Now I wish I hadn’t read it at all!!! I feel so disapointed. I wanted a happy ending. I definately won’t go see the movie now.

    • Maggie

      I did this too. I found Dex so unsympathetic because he was such a jerk, but the book kept me reading. Until the end and I too threw it across the room. I’m still annoyed by it and ended up feeling that the book was a giant waste of time because of it. Honestly, I’m sorry I read it, and there’s no way I want to see a movie of it.

      It’s not so much that it was a tragedy, there are plenty of tragedies I like, but it just felt like in the end, both lives were sort of a waste.

      • jen

        THIS. And I was mad at my cousin for recommending it to me.

      • right

        I’m right there with you. And I agree that it seemed like a cop-out. Such a stupid, stupid ending. I didnt need a “happily ever after” (although I would have been ok with it), but hit by a car and dies? Really? Felt like the writer ran out of ideas and just went for the easy putt.

      • Marissa

        @right Wouldn’t the “easy putt” be the happily ever after?

      • JeniT

        I know this will sound sexist (sound? it is sexist) but when I finally slogged to the end and she died, I thought, ‘this is why I don’t read men anymore.’

    • rachel

      I LOVED the ending in the book. Sometimes life is like that, beautiful fun people die everyday. It was really a moment that made me appreciate life a little more…and that is a powerful thing for a book to do.

      • Angela

        That’s what I think too. I think the “happily ever after” ending would’ve been safe, and I admire that he took such a risk. You could tell throughout the entire book that things weren’t going to be wrapped up into a neat, little bow. The last few pages, with the flashback to 1988, were so touching. And how often do you actually remember romances that end happily? I’m frankly shocked that so many people say they regret reading the book at all just because of the ending.

    • Ashleigh

      Completely agree, J.D.

    • Kathi

      I had that same reaction…I was so upset at the book that I had to put it down for a while before I could bring myself to finish it.

    • moira

      J.D. I actually did physically throw it across the room. I was so angered. I thought it was such a cop out. I really think that killing a main character just shows that an author cant think of a more fitting ending (there are very notable exceptions to this theory but i find its true all too often)

    • Elizabeth

      I loved the book as well until she died. They probably could have changed the ending for the film. But then they would have gotten in trouble by some fans. The book is great and witty but the death seemed from out of nowhere. In the film in even more felt like a shock value ending than in the book. I can’t remember for sure in the book but I think that the getting hit by a car scene is not so graphic. In fact since I knew it was coming in the film I thought we were hear some squeaky brakes and a crash but not actually see her get hit. It really bothered me actually. It focused on her for half a minute in the street. Her death scene was rather disturbing. In the book it’s shorter and I think her reaction is something like “Well great Dexter’s going to be mad”. I left the theater feeling drained and that is not what I want from a movie.

      • JA

        The book was intended by the author to be about a “deathday” the opposite of a birthday. So the death, as the author evisoned it did not just come out of nowhere.

      • Angela

        Death in real life often comes out of nowhere.

    • Sarah

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who hated the ending. It wrecked what was otherwise a great book.

    • Dana

      I hated the end of this book, and like several of the others, I too was reading on my Kindle and so could not throw it. But I totally would have.

      I HAVE gone out of my way to warn other friends away from it, though. And when they’ve told me to go ahead and spoil it for them, they’ve thanked me for keeping them from wasting time and money.

    • Elysia

      Agreed. When I read the ending it made me mad I’d read the book altogether.

  • mia

    I couldn’t agree more. I LOVED the book… until she died. It did seem just grossly out of place and like Nicholls put it in just for shock value. I was very disappointed in the ending. It seemed like a cop out to me, like he got lazy and didn’t feel like actually thinking of an ending that would befit the journey of these two people. That is why I won’t see the movie.

    • rachel

      That was the whole point of the book, not a cop out! That “One Day” they kept checking in on was actually the anniversary of her death. We all go 365 days a year, not knowing that one of those days has a special meaning that we don’t know yet.

      • christine

        no…if you recall, they actually share their first “hook up” onthe same date as well. it’s a contrived plot device and i agree with previous posters that emma’s death felt horribly disconnected from the rest of the book.

      • catwoman

        exactly. well said. the whole point was the meaning of that particular day. although I too yelled No and threw the book down.

  • Alex

    I didn’t the accident in the book to be shlocky, and the fact that the novel didn’t stop dead at Emma’s death proved that Nicholls had something bigger to say than ending a star-crossed love story on a tragic, melodramatic note. For me, the underlying power of ‘One Day’ was that it portrayed a realistic look at love, and at the frustrations and limitations of the relationship between two people, how their own choices push forward their lives forward. ‘One Day’ was not a romance, but rather a love note to humanity, how two people can deeply affect one another. MY biggest issue with this film adaptation was that these sort of lingering layers were smoothed over for a more traditional romantic narrative. I’ll take Nicholls’ deceptively deep and intelligent tome any day.

    • Mer

      Realistic look at love? Are you serious? Contrived, contrived, contrived. The ending was just thinly veiled emotional manipulation (as the OP noted, very City of Angels) to cop out of having to explore an actual realistic relationship. How realistic is it that after 20 years of will-they-or-won’t-they, she dies a sudden, tragic death? Not very; instead, it’s an ending that only tries to appeal to pathos instead of reality.

      • Izziebee

        I feel the same. It was so contrived. Gag

    • AB

      Just because it didn’t end the way you wanted it to doesn’t make it contrived.

      • Angela

        Amen. So, if they ended up a perfect couple with a perfectly happy life, that wouldn’t have been contrived?

  • JR

    I loved this book until the end! I have trouble recommending it to anyone because the ending frustrates me so much!

  • AN

    I haven’t read the book and knew absolutely nothing about the movie going in to it. I was totally shocked by Emma’s death. I was one of those gasp’s in the audience. I didn’t feel it was cheap or out of place. I want to read the book and maybe I’ll feel differently. I loved the movie, though.

  • Ben

    Too bad they miscast Anne Hathaway as a British woman, so most people lost interest in the movie, once they decided to hire a “big name star”, instead of a British Actress who was a lot more like the character described in the book. I think a lot of fans of the book lost interest in the movie when they cast Anne Hathaway.

    • Regina George

      Everybody is so against Anne Hathaway being in this film just because she’s not British! Whatever, she’s not British. She just put on an accent, that was admittedly pretty crappy. Big deal. Forget about the fact she’s American, and she did a perfectly good job. I just feel bad for her because she’s had the misfortune to appear in critically panned films like Valentine’s Day, Bride Wars, etc.

      • Tank Girl

        I like Anne Hathaway, but Cary Mulligan would have been much better in this movie.

      • Ashleigh

        Tank Girl, Carey Mulligan was my choice when I first heard about the movie adaptation. A friend said she always pictured a “Ginnifer Goodwin” sort as Emma.

      • HoneyJo

        I did not read the book, but I’m glad Anne Hathaway was cast instead of Carey Mulligan. In the film anyway, Emma goes through a bit of a transformation. She comes into her own and becomes more beautiful and self assured. Anne can play geek or beautiful. Carey just doesn’t have the sex appeal and physical attractiveness to have the chemistry with Sturgess that Hathaway has here. The best part of the movie was the kiss at the very end. Lit the screen on fire. Carey Mulligan is too pixie to have pulled that moment off.

      • Angela

        I think Anne Hathaway was a better casting choice than Carey Mulligan. Her accent wasn’t perfect, but I thought she embodied Emma’s personality really well, which is so much more important than nailing physical mannerisms.

  • Ann

    I get why people feel like it was a slap in the face, and more often than not I do feel like when people “go there” with endings it IS for shock value. Having said that, people DO die. That’s real life. Sometimes they die in a tragic way, and at a time when they were just starting to pull their life together. Sometimes they die on their wedding day. Sometimes they overcome cancer just to be killed in a car accident a year later. So I’m torn, here. Does the fact of her dying change the love they shared or the struggle they went through? Does it make it all not worthwhile?

    • jj

      yes. it does make it all NOT worthwhile. does that happen in real life? yes. and when it happens in real life, it’s not worthwhile too. life sucks and then you die.

      • Ace

        jj, I think “life sucks and then you die” is the point of the whole story. (Well, children, what have we learned today? Today we learned that life sucks and then you die.) If it makes fans of the novel feel better, Hemingway’s novels have similar themes. Personally, I don’t think any of us needed the reminder.

    • Mer

      There’s realistic death in fiction, and then there’s contrived death in fiction. The first is hard to achieve; there’s no formula for how to do it well, but you know it when you see it (see: The Body episode of Buffy). The second happens when an author wants to evoke an emotional response from his audience without the effort of a realistic or nuanced portrayal. It’s a shortcut to get people to care. The problem with books like One Day is that when your readers can tell it’s contrived, the reaction backfires.

      So, really, my problem is not that she dies, but how and when and why she dies. There are many books I completely love where a main character’s death occurs near the end of the book (I thought about including some, but didn’t want to spoil), mostly because of the honest portrayal of death. However, this book was nothing like that.

      • mia

        I agree completely. Well said.

  • Zoe

    I think Emma’s death makes it clear that the book’s main protagonist is Dex–not Emma. DEX is the main character who grows and changes over time, and who is still there at the end. Emma’s death sets Dex up to have to finally function on his own as an adult. So I’m certain the writer had his reasons for this; he obviously wasn’t just writing a happy-ending romance. And although I hated the ending of the book as well (and would the movie too), I wouldn’t want a plot development that was obviously well-thought-out to be changed.

    • Liv

      I agree with you! I always read books I liked twice before taking them back to the library. The first time time I read this book I was not pleased. The second time it made more sense. I still didn’t like it but her death was needed for Dex to become a whole person of sorts.

      • AS

        I agree as well– it seemed like Emma’s death was a sort of, well, maybe consequence isn’t really the right word, but the result of Dex’s wasting all that time.

      • @AS

        It sort of remind me of Never Let Me Go. *SPOILER ALERT* The story wouldn’t have been nearly as affecting if the characters had been allowed to extend their lives. Instead, just as the two romantic leads realize that they’re meant to be together, they’re torn apart by the inevitable.

  • DW

    The ending of the book didn’t bother me at all. I actually found it tremendously moving.

  • Lee

    I didn’t read the book so I saw the movie cold turkey. I liked the ending. I think the reviewer misses the whole point of the film: fate is not something that we can control, but something that we can learn from and grow. That’s precisely what happened in ONE DAY and why I consider it one of the best films of the year!

    • Mer

      Or maybe the reviewer understood that Emma’s death smacked of authorial contrivance rather than authentic fiction. Just because there’s an idea behind her death doesn’t make this film well done.

      • Elijah

        Or maybe the reviewer is a whiny kid like many of you and is just a big baby who wanted a happy ending. Comments like “I liked the book, except for the parts I didn’t like in the book” make the reviewer here seem petulant.

        Once you start calling fiction an “authorial contrivance” you’ve lost any claim to knowing what is authentic.

      • Lee

        !@Mer: ALL fiction and/.or literature is “authorial contrivance.” What separates good fiction from bad fiction are believable characters, which I believe ONE DAY had.

    • b.d.

      To your quote of, …”fate is not something that we can control, but something that we can learn from and grow.” Unfortunately fate is something we HAVE to learn from! That is why the ending is so horrifying; while we hope for a long and happy life, fate often intervenes. And while I too hated the ending, it makes the other parts of the story that much more compelling and meaningful. Coincidentally, a version of this story happened to a friend in real life (had crazy relationships, had a baby, she broke up with the husband, lived as a single mom for a while, finally got into a stable relationship only to be murdered no less one night in the laundry room of her apartment building by some random whacko). Yes…life can suck, but I try and treasure the memories of my friend…at least I have that. And in the end, that’s what counts…all the moments we do have, it’s up to us to appreciate every one of them!

  • Untitled

    I absolutely hated the book, solely because of the ending. I’ve been using the phrase “cop-out” to describe it for several months. I also think that the ending is insulting to me, the reader, and my intelligence. When I heard that they were making a movie, I was mainly annoyed, then hopeful, like you were, that the ending would be changed. I refused to see it until I knew how it would end. Thank you for confirming that I don’t have to waste $10 watching the adaptation of a book I despised.

  • TV Junkie

    I don’t mind that Emma dies in either the book or the movie, however I wish that the movie had shown more of the happy times that Emma and Dex had together. They seemed to rush through that bit.

  • Alex

    Aly, I’m not quite sure why you keep referring to “the writers” of the movie, when a simple look at the film’s IMDb page tells you that David Nicholls was also the screenwriter. It’s highly unlikely he ever considered changing the ending of his own book. That said, I agree that he should have. I also hated that they started the movie with her riding the bike, therefore basically telling the audience that SOMETHING BIG IS GOING TO HAPPEN WHEN YOU SEE THIS SCENE AGAIN.

  • Melissa

    I’m actually glad they didn’t change the ending. While a part of me would have loved to see them get their happily-ever-after (totally shocked when I got to Emma’s death in the book) for a little while at least, they did (before her fertility struggles began). And I loved what Ian said to Dexter-about how he made her happy and in return she made him decent. I loved their relationship. It’s incredibly sad that they didn’t get to grow old together, but changing that would have been a cop-out IMO.

    • Ashley

      Yeah, I feel the same way. Real life isn’t tied up with neat little bows. They actually did get some happiness together, which is more than a lot of people get. And Emma is the only one that could have affected Dexter in that way, and he’ll never forget that. Poignant and beautiful IMO, and hits you right in the gut. Which is why the ending can’t be changed. It’s not for shock value, it’s just about the beauty and tragedy that is life.

      • darrin

        ashley your comment says it best

  • Sherrip

    I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, and I think you’ve now talked me out of both. Spoilers don’t bug me in the least, but I do like happy endings especially when you go through so much crap, you deserve something better for it. Anyways, the real reason I got on here. I don’t think I’d call “The Notebook” tragic in the least, and that’s coming from someone who’s grandma suffers from alzheimers- well not her so much that suffers as my grandpa. They got to have their love story, and in the end of the movie they pass away together, and she did remember him every once in a while, which just goes to show the power of love. My grandma doesn’t even recognize me anymore, but I’ve seen her with my grandpa and you can still see a glimer in her eyes, even though she doesn’t really know him most of the time either. Anyways, if I had my choice that’s definitely how I’d want to go, and in the book, he loses her, but after a long life, that, imho is the way to do it.

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