Serendipity

Dear rom-com skeptic:

People like you blindly lump all romantic comedies into the category of ‘lame,’ no matter how brilliant they might be, and  once upon a time I used to rage at people like you. Artless, heartless morons, I thought. How I loathed your narrow minds and your dark, cobwebbed souls. Then I watched Serendipity, and for the first time in my life, I felt for you. I understood from where your deep-seated rom-com hatred must have first blossomed.

Sadly, dear rom-com skeptic, I cannot help you unsee this movie, and the dopey scenario will be burned on both our brains forever: Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) meet in Bloomingdale’s department store where they playfully argue over who will get to purchase the last remaining pair of black cashmere gloves. As a couple, Sara and Jonathan are a rom-com cliché: in her long boyish coat, scarf, and casual boots, she is a pseudo-Sandra Bullock, all naïve and plain; and he is the cute-but-tired self-sacrificing sad-sack whose life force can only be restored by the magical connection he is about to make with this  girl of his dreams. Though Jonathan has a girlfriend and Sara has a boyfriend, that doesn’t stop them from spending the entire evening together. She is a precious little angel and he is mesmerized by her non-existent charm. As their evening draws to a close, Sara won’t give Jonathan her last name or phone number. She leaves it up to fate: if they are meant to be, she says, the universe will bring them together again one day.

Like Jonathan and Sara on the Central Park ice rink, Serendipity skates from one weary gimmick to another. Instead of focusing on story, this movie simply conjures up everything it thinks a romantic comedy should be. The writing is lazy, and words like “destiny” are thrown around without much weight behind them. Background stories for these characters don’t exist and so their flirtations in the opening sequence look to me like sleazy infidelity, not blossoming romance. Jonathan gives me the creeps. This numbskull spends $700 on a purple velvet suit in order to get information from a sales clerk that will help him track down Sara. Hey, numbnuts: if you spent this much energy on your current relationship, maybe you’d be happy! But no, Jonathan and Sara spend most of the film in a tiring angst, obsessing about signs or the absence of signs. What does it all mean, they ask? Well, Jonathan and Sara, I can tell you what it means: it means you’re boring as heck. Despite the fun performance of John Corbett as Lars (Sara’s velvet-clad shehnai-playing musician boyfriend), Serendipity is a failure as a film and as a love story. The movie bugs me – not only because it lacks effort, but also because it perpetuates a ridiculous idea about love. Love is not shown as a gift for all, but instead is portrayed as a magical event that only a chosen few are permitted to ever  partake in.

Please don’t hold Serendipity against the genre, dear rom-com skeptic. That would be like judging the Indiana Jones films based on just a viewing of The Temple of Doom. You must believe that although many romantic comedy fans sing the praises of Serendipity, not all of us do. Some of us come pretty close to hating it. In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert (who gives it 1.5 stars out of four) had this to say: “Jon is played by John Cusack, in what is either a bad career move or temporary insanity. Sara is played by Kate Beckinsale, who is a good actress, but not good enough to play this dumb. Jon and Sara have much in common; both are missing an ‘h.’ The movie puts them through dramatic and romantic situations so close to parody as to make no difference; one more turn of the screw, and this could be a satire of Sleepless in Seattle.”

At one point in the movie, Sara sits with her present boyfriend Lars and looks up at the stars. We are supposed to think that Lars is inconsiderate and unromantic because he doesn’t know what a certain constellation is called. Sara suddenly recalls that night long ago when Jonathan had seen the same pattern of that constellation in her arm freckles. She quickly pushes up her sleeve, looks at the constellation of freckles on her arm, then back up at the stars, and says in a wistful tone “It’s Cassiopeia.” Right there: the worst scene in the history of romantic comedy film.

My condolences, dear rom-com skeptic, that you stumbled upon Serendipity. Jonathan and Sara would say it was fate. I say it was one serious case of bad luck. I hope you can move on.

Paula Jane

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