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Dustin Putman

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Serendipity (2001)
3 Stars

Directed by Peter Chelsom
Cast: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon, Bridget Moynahan, John Corbett, Eugene Levy, Leo Fitzpatrick
2001 – 91 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for a scene of sexuality and brief profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 30, 2001.

People are free to make the decisions that they feel are right, but does the idea of fate also play a vital part in everyone's life? And when should a person take fate into their own hands to make happen what they are destined to have happen? "Serendipity," dreamily directed by Peter Chelsom (2001's "Town & Country"), is a joyously sweet motion picture that attempts to deal with these contemplative notions. With two perfectly realized performances by John Cusack (2001's "America's Sweethearts") and Kate Beckinsale (2001's "Pearl Harbor"), this could very well be the most romantic movie of the year.

It's five days before Christmas in 1994, and Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) meet by grabbing the same pair of gloves at Manhattan's Bloomingdale's Department Store. They both have significant others, but nonetheless spend a lovely evening together--eating at Serendipity, ice skating at Rockfeller Center, talking like old friends who have known each other their whole lives. When it's time to part, Sara writes her phone number on a piece of paper, but just as she's about to give it to him, a gust of wind blows it out of their grasp. Sara, a strong believer in fate and destiny, spends a $5 bill that Jonathan has written his phone number on, and writes her own name and number in a used book that she then will sell to a random used book store. If they were meant to be together, she tells him, then they will someday, somehow, find the money and book.

Switch to the present, Jonathan still lives in New York City, while Sara resides in San Francisco as a psychologist. They are both on the verge of getting married--she to musician Lars (John Corbett) and he to Halley (Bridget Moynahan)--but still can't get their minds off one another. With the days counting down to Jonathan's impending wedding, a set of chance circumstances send them both off on a wild goose chase to find the other, of which they only know their first name.

With a straightforward premise that appreciatively bypasses any extraneous subplots that might have bogged the main proceedings down, "Serendipity" proves to be the most diversive cinematic entertainment to come around in a month when our country has fallen upon unfortunate tragedy. It isn't vulgar or profane, is more or less suitable for all audiences, and is the perfect antidote for the romantic in all of us.

Debut screenwriter Marc Klein and director Peter Chelsom have a crafty way with witty dialogue that moves at a clip pace and natural human nuances. They also delight in devising a plot that cleverly interweaves the four central character, Sara and Jonathan, as well as best friends Dean (Jeremy Piven) and Eve (Molly Shannon), who accompany them on their search. In many cases, they are in the same narrow proximity and just miss each other by a second. This particular device risks the chance of feeling gimmicky, but you become so involved in the characters' plight that you simply don't care.

John Cusack, a delightful male version of Julia Roberts in the romance genre (whom, coincidentally, paired recently to make the terrible "America's Sweethearts"), doesn't step wrong once as the lovelorn Jonathan, and stripped of the special effects surrounding "Pearl Harbor," Kate Beckinsale is at her radiant best. They create such intelligent, likable people that one can't help but root for them to find each other and be happy.

In nicely written supporting roles, Jeremy Piven (2001's "Rush Hour 2") and Molly Shannon (2000's "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas") make for Jonathan and Sara's enjoyable counterparts. Outside of her former standout work on TV's "Saturday Night Live," this is easily Shannon's most geniunely effectual and well-rounded performance. Bridget Moynahan (2000's "Coyote Ugly") also turns in tellingly understated work as Jonathan's fiancee, Halley, who is refreshingly written as a sympathetic person rather than a bitchy cliche.

Most viewers will be able to predict the conclusion long before it occurs, but the ending is, nonetheless, a magical one in all senses of the word. "Serendipity" is a whimsical fairy tale that gives everyone hope in finding their one true love. Most of all, it leaves you feeling real good inside.

©2001 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman