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Serendipity (Peter Chelsom) 2001 

Serendipity is ultimately meaningless fluff, but it’s relatively harmless. The film centers on a pair of supposedly star-crossed lovers (John Cusack & Kate Beckinsale) that spend a supposedly perfect night together, before parting with the conditional understanding that if fate places them back together, they were meant to be. The scenes that introduce these characters induce a fairly high level of nausea. Cusack’s character is a smart ass, and he doesn’t just deliver lines… he orates. Everything this guy says is so apparently thought through that whenever he opens his yap, a speech falls out. This sort of behavior lessens as the film goes on, but the film’s insistence that this same guy would get so caught up in a bunch of new age hooey about fate and destiny that he could get his best friend to endanger his job and run around New York Scooby Doo-style in search of an apparition is far from convincing. 

Usually, when a romantic comedy decides to split apart its characters for the majority of its running time, I wonder what the point is, but here I was relieved. Once the couple is apart, the film begins to find its legs. Both characters are seriously involved in relationships with people that the film doesn’t even attempt to humanize, so when their hearts start wandering, it’s not hard to see how things will turn out. Seven or so years later, Beckinsale’s Londoner has been further displaced from New York to San Francisco. She packs up her terrifically cynical best friend (Molly Shannon) and heads to New York in search of Cusack. Much amusement ensues as the characters visit the same locations hours apart from each other, narrowly missing their fate. Obviously a film with a setup like this is a bit of a tease, but that’s okay. We all know the clichés being used, but the film manages to dreg up an undeniable charm from somewhere. I want to give credit to Shannon’s awkward, nervous skepticism. She doesn’t belong in a film like this, and she knows it. She’s not in it enough, though to get all of the credit. I think Beckinsale might be to blame. Her character is sweet, if a little underwritten, and she manages to convey the sense that something is at stake here far more than she could in an “important” film like Pearl Harbor. Certainly the direction isn’t the film’s main reason for success. It’s far from inspired. Peter Chelsom fills the movie with stop-motion shots of clocks moving forward or clouds passing and pans from far above the city across the skyline. Still, for reasons that I cannot exactly pinpoint, the film gets a passing grade from me.


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman