Worth A Look: 36.92%
Just Average: 18.46%
Pretty Crappy: 20%
5 reviews, 35 user ratings
by Andrew Howe
I hate to tell you this, but sixty minutes ago a tragedy occurred. It’s not much in the scheme of things, hardly a drop in the ocean if you want to know the truth, but the realisation that you’ve been living a lie always tarnishes an otherwise enjoyable evening. My unfortunate discovery was triggered by Serendipity, and its legacy is that I will never be able to say “I’ll watch John Cusack in anything” like I really mean it again.The words “for a short time” could be used to describe the film’s blessedly brief duration, but it’s also the name of a song by Australian band Weddings, Parties, Anything. It’s about those times when you experience a mystical connection with someone you’ve barely met, and for the briefest of moments the concept of a kindred spirit seems like something other than an excuse for bad poetry and drunken declarations. You share a few laughs, maybe a drink or two, then before you know it they’re gone, leaving nothing but a vague sense of something incredibly valuable slipping through your fingers. It’s an unbearably romantic notion (ships passing in the night and all that), but flights of fancy can be the difference between a positive outlook and a life of quiet desperation, for during those long dark nights of the soul the belief that fate moves in mysterious ways is a comforting thought indeed.
"Dear John - it's over"
Unfortunately, WPA packed more insight and genuine emotion into three verses than Serendipity can muster for its entire duration. The premise is an invitation to script a bittersweet rumination on lost opportunity (which, for all its flaws, is something The Family Man canvassed surprisingly well), but instead we’re left with a sugary slab of wish-fulfilment that will have most viewers reaching for the insulin.
After meeting in a department store during the Christmas season, Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) retire to the Serendipity café to work on their instant connection. They share a few laughs, maybe a cappuccino or two, then before you know it they’re parted by the fickle hand of fate. However, instead of experiencing a vague sense of loss and going about their business they spend the next few years pining for each other, notwithstanding the fact that they’ve both moved on to full-time relationships. The film chronicles their quest to close the circle, and by the time it reaches its climax you’ll be wishing they’d left well enough alone.
If a scriptwriter gives it his best shot and fails, at least you can credit him with making the effort. Marc Klein, on the other hand, evidently didn’t give a damn – it’s obvious from the outset that he’s not invested in his work, because if he was he wouldn’t have served up two of the most heinous examples of slovenly scripting I’ve witnessed all year.
The entire plot hinges on the notion that our two lovebirds become so besotted with each other in a single evening that they’re prepared to spend years whining about what might have been. This is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, but it’s critical that we credit the concept, and this means that Klein has to convince us there’s a valid reason for their behaviour.
This is how Jonathan and Sara occupy their time during the film’s brief prologue:
- they drink coffee and talk about inconsequential matters
- they go ice skating
- Jonathan draws a scale diagram of Cassiopeia on Sara’s arm
- Sara exhibits signs of mental instability by prattling about fate, then convinces Jonathan that they can only continue their relationship if they get into different elevators and choose the same floor.
Putting aside the fact that Sara’s obsession with destiny makes her look like a Grade A flake, these shenanigans lend little credence to the notion that our heroes have anything in common other than an understandable desire to get into each other’s pants. The connect-the-dots episode is kinda sweet, but Klein’s failure to provide us with more of the same (not to mention dialogue infused with the sound of two hearts beating as one) scuttles the film before it even begins.
OK, let’s assume you’re prepared to let it slide and approach the rest of film with an open mind. You’ve got about ten minutes, because that’s how long it takes for Klein to prove that he’s really not interested in your enjoyment. I mentioned that Jonathan and Sara were engaged in live-in relationships prior to embarking on their quest, so you might assume their partners would remind them of what they missed out on all those years ago. We need something to kickstart the search, and we certainly can’t have the protagonists ditching their loved ones unless they deserve it.
In the world according to Klein, however, you can do that and more. Jonathan’s fiancée comes across as a caring, intelligent woman who deserves considerably more affection than she receives, and while Sara’s companion is somewhat self-centred that’s rarely a capital crime, especially when she must have known she’d have to share him with his musical ambitions from the moment they met. What this means is that Jonathan and Sara become minor-league villains – they’re prepared to ride roughshod over their partners’ feelings for no better reason than to pursue a self-absorbed quest in the name of destiny, and we’ve already determined that there’s no justifiable reason for them to do so in the first place.
We could credit Klein for not taking the easy way out, but the set-up only works if you’re scripting a mournful meditation on the transient nature of human affection, and since the film barely scratches the surface of the issue it makes a tiresome affair even less appealing. The remaining running time serves up feeble attempts at humour (a self-serving department store salesman is a lowlight), intolerably mundane relationships and lacklustre dialogue, washing it down with lashings of new-age claptrap. The premise also gives Klein license to throw several outlandish coincidences into the mix, and the fact that they’re in sync with the film’s theme will not take the edge off your righteous disgust.
Cusack and Jeremy Piven set the screen alight in Grosse Point Blank, but you’re only as good as the script, and their talents are wasted on Klein’s cardboard creations. Their chemistry is intact, providing some of the only moments in the film that rise above the everyday, but it’s difficult to shake the impression that Cusack is only too pleased to collect his paycheque without actually earning it.
Since Beckinsale has more to gain she exhibits a greater commitment to the task at hand, but given that you spend most of the film wishing you could step through the screen and slap some sense into her character it’s not going to raise her in anyone’s estimation. The only performance that truly delivers is John Corbett’s take on Sara’s partner – he’s one seriously cool dude, and the brief musical sequences are surprisingly enjoyable.Unfortunately, since the film isn’t about Corbett’s adventures in the music business he’s reduced to the status of a brief but welcome anomaly. Klein recently signed a three-picture deal with Miramax, so I’ll probably be back for another round in twelve months, by which time we will have determined whether Cusack is still worthy of serious consideration. The honeymoon’s definitely over - one more film like this, and it’ll be a painful separation on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.
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originally posted: 12/23/01 23:28:54