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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Serendipity

Starring: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Peter Chelsom
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Jeremy Piven, Bridget Moynahan, Molly Shannon, John Corbett, Eugene Levy

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

Since the September 11 atrocities, entertainment writers have speculated on what sort of film would be embraced by post attack audiences. I won't presume to speak for others, but I can tell you that "Serendipity" did it for me. The frothy romantic comedy showcases the magic of New York City, from the bustle at Bloomingdales a few days before Christmas to the charm of skaters outside Rockefeller Center, gliding like music box dancers through the snowy night sky.

Reflecting on those scenes, a colleague of mine sighed and said, "Do you think New York will ever be that way again?" Of course it will. In fact, it will be that way this Christmas. To think otherwise is to underestimate the amazing resilience of the people who live and work in NYC.

A few months ago I would have criticized "Serendipity" for being pedestrian and predictable, but these are frightening, uncertain times and there is something soothing about watching a movie and knowing exactly what is going to happen. Maybe that's why small children watch the same video over and over and over again.

The story begins "a few years ago," when Jonathan Tragar (John Cusack) and Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) meet while Christmas shopping in New York (Eugene Levy contributes a brief, entertaining performance as an anal-retentive salesclerk). Despite the fact that each is involved with another, the attraction between the two is powerful and they enjoy an enchanted afternoon and evening together.

Jonathan wants Sara's full name and phone number, but she believes in fate and he reluctantly agrees with her plan to put destiny to the test. He writes his name and number on a $5 bill, while she writes hers inside a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" (a novel about a man who waits 50 years to unite with his love). Both the money and the book will be put back into circulation - if Jonathan and Sara are meant to be together, fate will guide the novel or the currency to the proper hand.

Cut to "a few years from now." Sara has moved to San Francisco, while Jonathan remains in New York. They are both about to be married: Sara to a musician named Lars (John Corbett) and Jonathan to Halley (Bridget Moynahan), a New Age shopkeeper who is skeptical of her own merchandise. As the day of the nuptials draws near, they each remember that fairy tale evening together and wonder if destiny has forgotten them.

We know the answer, of course (if you don't, then I'd like to welcome you to the secular world and urge you to keep in contact with your relatives in Amish country - oh, and please do not read the next few paragraphs). With this sort of cookie cutter romance, the author has only two chores: to come up with clever ways for the couple to almost bump into each other, and to figure out how to separate them from their fiancées while keeping their characters sympathetic.

Screenwriter Marc Klein engineers a suitable number of near misses, while keeping each party occupied by his or her best friend. And so Sara confides with Eve (Molly Shannon) while Jonathan frets with Dean (Jeremy Piven). Shannon makes a serviceable enough confidante, although she too often falls back on physical traits of her various "Saturday Night Live" personas. The pairing of Cusack and Piven works better; the men have been friends in real life since childhood and their affectionate rapport shows up onscreen.

As for the fiancés, each is given one mildly annoying behavior to justify being dumped. Lars is presented as self-absorbed and Halley comes off as a bit cranky. When the film reaches its inevitable climax, both breakups occur off camera. Note to the ex-Amish: It's safe to begin reading again.

In the roles of Jonathan and Sara, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale establish a nice chemistry. I would have preferred to see more of the two of them together interacting and less of the standard-issue plot mechanics, but that, of course, is not the nature of this beast. "Serendipity" is designed to be an old-fashioned romance and it never challenges the constraints of its format.

When I look back at this review in a year or two, I may curse myself for recommending a piece of cotton candy like "Serendipity." But right now, as the images of crashing planes, collapsing buildings and thousands of shattered lives still roll through my head, I relish sitting back in my seat in a darkened theater and watching unfailingly loyal best friends, glittering New York streets and the steady hand of destiny making sure that true love will find a way.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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