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
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
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