Review by Kim Hollis

September 30, 2001

I've read books like Unbearable Lightness of Being and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I think I understand them.  They're about girls, right?

What would you do if you met your soul-mate for only the briefest of moments, and then the person disappeared from your life without a trace? Would you leave your fate to chance or would you take matters into your own hands?

This premise is what drives Serendipity, a delightful if insubstantial movie with a sweet heart at its center.

The film establishes early on that Sara, played by Kate Beckinsale of the recent blockbuster Pearl Harbor, does not believe in accidents. When she meets Jonathan (I probably shouldn't even get started on how much I adore John Cusack) at Bloomingdale's as they reach for the same pair of gloves, the sparks fly immediately. Though both of them are already involved in relationships, the chemistry is undeniable and the two of them wind up going to a little coffee house called…Serendipity. From that point, Sara and Jonathan have a wonderful evening as they get to know each other better, but when Jonathan asks Sara for her name and phone number, a sudden gust carries the slip of paper on which she has written it off into the wind. Convinced that fate is giving them a signal, Kate decides to put their outcome in the hands of chance, and writes down her name and phone number in a book which she will sell at a used book store, while Jonathan puts his information on a five-dollar bill.

While I do have to admit that I was annoyed early on by the concept that these two seemingly-intelligent individuals would be perfectly content to leave their lives to be decided by destiny, part of Serendipity's charm is that the silliness of that notion is never denied. Even as Jonathan goes along with Sara's wacky ideas, he is constantly pointing out how ridiculous it all seems. After the opening sequence, the film jumps ahead a few years, where the voices of reason come from Dean (Jeremy Piven) and Eve (Molly Shannon), the best friends of Jonathan and Sara, respectively. Credit must be given to first-time screenwriter Marc Klein, as he never takes his own themes too seriously.

More importantly, though, our two leads are eminently likeable and have no trouble whatsoever carrying the film. After his embarrassing role in America's Sweethearts, Cusack seems to be back to his old standards here, though oddly enough, despite the fact that he truly is one of the two stars, he never seems to get enough screen time to really shine. Nonetheless, his lines are delivered with the trademark Cusack tone and wit that fans have come to appreciate, and much of that is because he plays so well off of Piven, who has also appeared in a number of Cusack's previous films. Piven himself is a bit too over-the-top at times for my taste (why give him what amounts to a stand-up comedy routine at the beginning of the movie?), but he tones it down a bit when interacting with Cusack and actually does a fine job of being the voice for Jonathan's true feelings.

I found Beckinsale to be charismatic and genuine. She is given the somewhat difficult task of making us believe that her character would honestly accept that fate and destiny are in control. What she manages to do really well is make the progression from that early innocence and naiveté in the beginning scenes to the more experienced and cautious professional woman she becomes, as the special moment she shared with a stranger grows more distant.

A couple of other notable key players in the tale include the always-hilarious Eugene Levy, who plays a Bloomingdale's sales associate, and John Corbett as Sara's fiancé, a kind of cross between Kenny G and Yanni (and indelible proof that guys like Zamfir are definitely not cool). Levy's appearance basically amounts to an expanded cameo, and unfortunately, one of his primary scenes is featured heavily in the trailer. If you've seen that, you've basically seen his shtick for Serendipity, but he has a few other humorous moments as well.

The movie itself moves along at a fairly brisk pace, clocking in at just about an hour-and-a-half in length. There are few, if any, wasted moments, as we follow our two hopeless romantics to what we know will inevitably be a warm-and-fuzzy ending.

In other words, the movie has no big twists or surprises, but the journey to get to the end is a rewarding one. Jonathan and Sara encounter all kinds of obstacles and apparent signs as they try to figure out what fate is determining for them, but ultimately, it is the decisions they make that shape their future. Serendipity is pure, fluffy fun, and though it's not likely to make any kind of long-lasting impression, it will almost certainly put a smile on your face.



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