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Serendipity

Is falling in love ever really like this?

Jonathan (John Cusak) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) cross paths in the middle of a New York City department store overflowing with Christmas shoppers. They're both grabbing for the last pair of black gloves and end up in a very witty tiff that's so cutesy, it's hard to imagine it happening offscreen. So the quarrel, along with some dewy-eyed looks, gets the pair (yes, the gloves are symbolic) into a coffee shop, where they bond and flirt and realize that they each have lovers.

Sara freaks out about this, and refuses to give the smitten boy her number - until she devises some games to play that will tempt fate and tell her they are "meant to be." She dashes into the Waldorf Astoria, tells Jonathan to get on an elevator, she'll do the same, and if they end up-miraculously-on the same floor, she'll give him her number. When obstacles get in the way of fate, they end up missing each other, and Sara dashes out, disappearing into the NYC night. Director Peter Chelsom manages to make Sara look only slightly loopy as she does this, but it's hard not to get annoyed at her affected whimsy.

Years later, they're both engaged to be married, but as they gaze at their black glove (each one came away from that fortuitous night with one) Jonathan and Sara can't help wondering if they're missing out. So Sara flies from San Francisco, leaving her New Age fiancÚ (John Corbett, who's Yani-esque singer gives the film some of its funniest moments), to challenge fate in NYC, looking for clues to find Jonathan.

Chelsom brings the film into the realm of fairy tale from the beginning with fast-motion shots of clouds, sunsets, and NYC nights glittering in the snow, so it's easier to swallow the exaggerated emotions and passionate sprints through city streets to stop weddings, etc... but he steps over the melodrama line a few times too many. Jonathan sees the constellation Cassiopeia in the freckles on Sara's arm, tracing them with a pen as he tells her the story of the stars. This is something that a cheesy, inexperienced college boy might do - like, say, that guy that Cusak played in The Sure Thing. But Sara falls for it. Chelsom crafts the recycled ideas of fate and serendipity with as much subtly as a WWF wrestler, so that by the end even the most hopeless romantic might become jaded. It's unfortunate, because when done perceptively, all this symbolism draws you into a love story, and gets you all mushy without feeling manipulated or insulted by the director's faith in your intelligence. Still, Cusak and Jeremy Piven, who plays his faithful best friend, throw in dashes of integrity and sharp writing that make Serendipity tolerable. A few moments have that distinctive Cusak-sounding rant, and Piven goes into a brief but hilarious tirade about the uselessness and excess of the whole dot-com/venture capital world that stand out like a laurel leaf from the rest of the script. Otherwise, renting The Sure Thing might be a better idea.


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Serendipity
rated PG-13
1 hour 25 minutes

John Cusack
Kate Beckinsale
Jeremy Piven
John Corbett
Molly Shannon

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