Creative charm puts romantic comedy above the rest

· Oct 7, 2001 Tweet

GRADE: A/B

There’s a genre of movies out there that some viewers adore but most self-respecting film critics steer clear of. After all, there’s no crying in movie reviewing. Romantic comedies, however ill-conceived, poorly written and badly executed, never fail to get the mixed reaction of reaching for the Kleenex by some, reaching for the barf bag by others.

They’re not supposed to be good. They’re supposed to be warm, fuzzy and completely implausible. Yet the latest release in such an enigmatic group, “Serendipity,” uses intelligence and charm to warm to coldest of hearts (us critics) and entertain everyone across the board. True to its name, “Serendipity” finds a critic actually enjoying a romantic comedy, a fortunate accident indeed.

Although not highly original and not without plot holes, “Serendipity’s” story is cute and well thought-out. Jonathon (John Cusack, “America’s Sweethearts”) meets Sara (Kate Beckinsale, “Pearl Harbor”) when they both reach for the same pair of gloves at a busy New York department store. The two, although both involved in other relationships, spend the evening together, ice-skating and gooning into each other’s eyes. Cusack and Beckinsale, although not entirely memorable were solid choices for the roles. They let the bright story line have the spotlight and fill in the plot holes with their charm and good looks.

The outcome of their relationship is left up to fate on several occasions throughout the evening, and consequently, the rest of the film. But the success of the film lies heavily in the semi-believability and total creativity of these occasions. Where other schmoopy-whoopy movies would leave the fate of its lovers to some big, highly far-fetched and stupid event, such as an illuminated heart on the Empire State Building or an angel giving up eternal life, “Serendipity” opts for smaller, more charming and more believable chances. Sure, jumping on separate elevators and seeing if you and Mr./Mrs. Possibly Right pick the same floor is pretty dumb. But it’s also pretty cute and likely to happen to anyone who may be a little love-struck.

Yet the elevator fiasco results in failure and the two are left to leave their relationship to chance. Jonathon’s number is on a dollar bill and Sara’s info in written in a book, which would be helpful if the two items weren’t floating around Manhattan waiting for fate to deliver them back to the owners.

Fate, however, takes a few years off. In the meantime, Jonathon gets engaged to another woman and Sara to another man. As their respective weddings approach on opposite sides of the country, the two begin asking the big “What ever happened to … ?” and “What if … .” They start to search out each other with the help — or hindrance, in some cases — of the film’s excellent and well developed supporting cast.

Sara’s fianc? (John Corbet, “Volcano”) is the Yanni-esque new-age musician whose ego is about as big as the instrument he plays. Her best friend (Molly Shannon, “Never Been Kissed”) is actually somewhat subtle in this film, having undoubtedly trained at the Rosie O’Donnell “Sleepless in Seattle” school of best romantic comedy friend. Her performance is good, but leads us to believe she merely passed the classes without honors.

Her male counterpart (Jeremy Piven “Very Bad Things”) is better as Jonathon’s right-hand man. Piven, as always, adds a little something extra to a role that could have been easily played and destroyed by some David Schwimmer schmuck. Luckily for us, Piven saddles up nicely next to Cusack as he has been doing for films on end.
The smart supporting cast gives “Serendipity” the extra push above most romantic comedies. The coincidences pile up and fate works overtime in the relationship, which at times, seems ridiculous and storybook. Obviously the characters will reunite — this isn’t Agatha Christie. It’s not mystery that drives these types of movies. It’s hope and romance, two things that can induce puking nine time out of ten. But when done correctly with believability, creativity and intelligence, as in the case of “Serendipity,” it can be a rare and fortunate accident.

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This article was published Oct 7, 2001 at 11:00 pm and last updated Oct 7, 2001 at 11:00 pm

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