Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Chelsom

Cast: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Eugene Levy

MPAA Rating: (for a scene of sexuality, and for brief language)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 10/5/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

You know the moment in the romantic comedy where the two lovers are ready to finally get together or confess their love for each other, but some force beyond their control gets in the way and keeps them apart for just the slightest bit longer? It may be that the character misses a train/plane/taxi/etc. or that he or she overhears a conversation out of context or you get the general idea. Annoying, aren’t they? What would you say if an entire movie were based on this scene? It actually doesn’t turn out as bad as it sounds. In fact, screenwriter Marc Klein has done something a bit ingenious by turning these instances into the backbone of the fatalistic romantic comedy Serendipity. Because the script so gleefully indulges in bringing its leads closer together all while making sure they stay just far enough away, we smile instead of groan.

Around Christmas time, Jon and Sara (John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale) meet while trying to buy the same pair of cashmere gloves. He asks her to go out with him for the evening. She refuses, but somehow finds her way back to him and finally agrees. After a wonderful night out on the town, Sara gives Jon her phone number, but it blows away in the breeze. Sara is convinced that there are no accidents—everything is controlled by fate. Therefore, this is a sign that they are not supposed to be together—at least not yet. So she sets up a little test (one of many to follow) to finalize what fate has decreed. If they press the same button in separate elevators, they are meant to be together now. They do, but Jon is delayed and misses the chance. Years pass, and both are ready to walk down the aisle. That is, unless, fate decides to rear its head.

At this point, the movie becomes the story of each of the lovers trying to find the clues to find each other. You see, before their departing, Jon wrote his name and number on a five-dollar bill while Sara wrote hers in a book. We get small glimpses at their lives and, more importantly, their significant others. They are appropriately unlikable. Sara’s fiancé is a musician who plays strange music and is far more interested in his career than her (It’s tough to decide which is the worse crime). Jon, on the other hand, either has it much easier or much more complicated. It seems that his fiancé’s crime is either being less appealing than Sara, growing too familiar to Jon, or keeping Jon from finding Sara. Any of these isn’t exactly the kind of understandable motivation for him to leave, but the movie doesn’t really have time to flesh out their difficulties, whatever they may be.

Joining the star-struck lovers on their quests are two friends. Molly Shannon, a former "SNL" cast member given to unnecessary outbursts of attention-grabbing, plays Sara’s. She’s mostly toned down here, but it hardly matters because the relationship between the two has no foundation except that Sara believes in fate while the Shannon character does not. Jon’s sidekick, on the other hand, is an old friend named Dean played by Jeremy Piven. This is the relationship that gives the movie balance. I loved the dialogue between the two—mixing pop culture and philosophy (There’s a priceless exchange about the necessity of The Godfather to understand The Godfather, Part II even though the second may be superior to the original). Despite the lack of a reasonable motivation for Jon to leave his current girlfriend, the friendship between the two men makes Jon’s side of the story seem slightly more complete—more mature. Throw on top of that two charming performances from the leads, and you have a pretty well-rounded cast.

Serendipity is a minor pleasure. It lacks some of the elements of great romantic comedy but twists the average premise enough to knock it a slight notch above some of the rest in the genre. With its smart script and charming performances, it’s hard not to enjoy it for what it is.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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