This romantic confection has all the weight of a soap bubble, but it has all the sheen and charm of one, too.
Serendipity is (1) a “happy accident” and (2) a New York restaurant that serves sweet, frozen goodies. It is #1 that brings our couple together, as both try to buy a pair of black cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s, and #2 where romantic sparks fly when she (“Pearl Harbor’s” Kate Beckinsale as Sarah) takes him (“High Fidelity’s” John Cusack as Jonathan) there to thank him for letting her have the gloves.
There is a strong romantic connection, but both are involved with other people, so they part, with two romantic note-in-a-bottle opportunitites for fate to bring them back together. He writes his name and number on a five dollar bill, which she puts back into circulation. And she writes her name and number in a copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which she sells to a used book store.
Years later, as both are about to get married, they are still drawn to each other. So we’re in “Sleepless in Seattle”/”When Harry Met Sally” land, watching them just miss each other a dozen times until the happily-ever-after ending.
Cusack and Beckinsale are just right, giving a small touch of bittersweet reality to the fairy tale. Sarah’s insistence on letting fate determine the outcome could make her seem arbitrary and foolish, but Beckinsale shows us that it is just the result of Sarah’s struggle to overcome a deep romanticism. Cusack, always superb in showing us that same struggle (if you haven’t seen “Say Anything,” rent it this weekend) makes Jonathan’s quest to find Sarah genuninely touching.
The script wobbles at times. The respective fiancés are neither interesting enough to merit their screen time or awful enough to make us feel comfortable about seeing them get dumped. And the near-misses get a little overdone. Adept performances by sidekicks Molly Shannon and Jeremy Piven and by Eugene Levy as a persnickety Bloomingdale’s salesman provide buoyancy. And New York City itself, photographed with twinkling lights and floating snowflakes by cinematographer John de Borman, who shows us the city as a dreamy wonderland. That’s an especially warming, if poignant vision these days.
Parents should know that the movie has smoking and drinking (including excessive drinking). A brief sexual situation is inexplicit and played for comedy. There is mild language. A gay character is portrayed sympathetically and without stereotypes. All lead characters are white and middle or upper class.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we decide to take emotional risks, including the risk of appearing like a “jackass,” and how we decide when to act and when to gamble on fate. They might also like to talk about whether there is such a thing as a soulmate, and how to recognize one.
Families who enjoy this movie should also see “And Now My Love” (some mature material, in French with subtitles), about a couple who do not meet until the movie’s last minutes. We see their entire lives, going back to the girl’s grandparents, so that we recognize how perfect they are for each other even before they do. Another charming movie along those lines is Next Stop Wonderland starring Hope Davis. And check out the movie’s website, which has a cute quiz to help you find a serendipitous match.