|Time: 101 mins.|
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Having grown up watching John Cusack onscreen, I find it hard to resist going to see movies he stars in. Especially romantic comedies. There's just something about him an honest, sweet, down-to-earth quality that makes him perfect as the every man searching for his one true love. There was great potential for this film to be just another average romance about fate, but it manages to rise above its' well-trodden base and becomes something magical. It does that by intelligently playing both sides of the destiny coin is life manuevered by a greater force or by our own decisions? making the lovers use their heads as well as their hearts. Both Cusack and Beckinsale play grounded, smart, successful characters, who know better than to believe in destiny, but find themselves unable to let go of that one wonderful evening they spent together. This film is as much about trusting your own instincts and being true to yourself, as it is about finding your soul mate. Though the universe conspires to bring them together, they have to do all the footwork to make it happen. Of course, if they just sat back and waited for fate, it wouldn't be much of a movie.
The film opens at Christmas time in New York in the crazy aisles of Bloomingdales. Jonathan (Cusack) and Sara (Beckinsale) both grab the last pair of black cashmere gloves and then end up trying to make the other person take them. Sara insists on repaying his "kindness" by buying him a treat at a local pastry shop called Serendipity. There's an instant connection between them, but they are both in relationships with other people and decide to just enjoy their chance meeting. They separate without exchanging names or phone numbers only to find themselves right back where they started when they each return to the shop to collect something they left behind. Deciding that fate meant them to spend more time together, they go to an outdoor ice rink and skate the night away. Since they have no expectations about the outcome of the evening, they are able to just be themselves...and they like what they discover. Jonathan wants to get to know her better, but Sara is convinced, if that is the will of the world, fate will bring them back together. To test the power of destiny, they decide to send two items off into the universe one with his name and number, the other with hers to see if it's really meant to be.
We move to several years in the future with both of them on the road to happily ever after with other people. Jonathan is only a few days away from his wedding to Halle (Moynahan) when he finds himself overcome with memories of Sara. Unable to get the possibility of "what if" out of his mind, he enlists the help of his best friend Dean (Piven) to track her down. It's not easy and it seems that despite his gut feeling that this is the right path, nothing about this quest goes his way. On the opposite end of the country Sara is planning a wedding of her own to new-age musician Lars (Corbett). As much as she cares for him, she begins to have doubts about their future together since it's clear his career comes first. She's no longer such an avid proponent of fate, but can't ignore the signs being thrown at her from the universe. She enlists the company of her best friend Eve (Shannon) on a last ditch trip to New York in order to put these apprehensions to bed for good. They are drawn closer and closer in a tangled web of near misses and mutual acquaintances, but it's not until they surrender to themselves that they finally reunite.
Much of the magic of this film is in the coincidences and chance encounters that create the story, so I don't want to reveal too much. There's not much that happens in this film that is all that original or surprising, and yet it manages to weave an engaging and romantic tapestry. Much of that has to do with the seriousness given the underlying topic and the intelligence of the characters. They are likable, normal people who take their futures into their own hands, something many of us leave to chance. Unlike the more contrived SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, we've seen this couple together and feel the chemistry between them. It's the only reason this film works at all. Beckinsale and Cusack create a palpable connection during that initial meeting that carries the audience through the less interesting moments that occur on the road to their reunion.
Cusack and Piven hold up their end of the search, better than Beckinsale and Shannon. The boys, with the help of an amusing supporting turn by Eugene Levy, just have more clever things to do. This being Beckinsale's first real foray into comedy, they rely on Shannon's talent for physical humor for many of the laughs in their scenes, which doesn't really work in such a thoughtful piece. I understand that's Shannon's forté, but she proves, in the film's quieter moments, that she's more than just a person who falls down funnily. Corbett and Moynahan (both "Sex in the City" alums) have the thankless roles as the jilted lovers. Moynahan doesn't get much to do but look pretty, which seems to be the only discernable reason why Cusack would be interested in her. Her character is so bland, it's no wonder her fiancé remembers Beckinsale so fondly. I wouldn't need the universe to stop me from marrying her. Corbett's character is at least relatively fleshed out, giving Cusack a slight run for his money. However, this film would have been even better if these characters were more deeply carved out, giving the leads more misgivings about their true paths.
The fact that SERENDIPITY actual works is itself a fortunate accident. There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this film, yet it all comes together in a simply lovely way. It's not the most original or funny flick on the planet, but it has a point, a great deal of heart and characters you want to spend time with. It also makes you wonder at the universe and the chance encounters of life that change your world forever. Every romance has it's own interesting tale of how it come to be and this one is worth hearing.