USA 2001
director : Peter Chelsom
script : Marc Klein
cinematography : John De Borman
editing : Christopher Greenbury
music : Alan Silvestri
lead actors : John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon
also : Eugene Levy, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan
90 minutes

Serendipity scores by taking what’s usually a flaw in romantic comedies – over-reliance on absurd coincidence – and turning it into a virtue. Jonathan (Cusack) and Sarah (Beckinsale) ‘meet cute’ in a department store one Christmas ‘a few years ago.’ They’re enjoy a couple of magical Manhattan hours, ice-skating in Central Park and swapping philosophies: while Jonathan is pragmatic, Sarah’s motto is que sera sera, and she whimsically insists on letting fate decide their future. The result: they go their separate ways until ‘a few years later’ when, the pair on the verge of marrying other people, destiny starts nudging them back together.

It’s rare to find a high-concept romantic comedy that actually works, and even rarer to find one that has at least as much in common with Final Destination and The Game as with Sleepless In Seattle. In The Game, Michael Douglas’s egotistical Van Orton was forced to realise his status as a pawn of neutral outside forces; Final Destination‘s teenagers were tracked down by an invisible, remorseless Death that contrived elaborate ‘accidents’ to ensure their demise. Here, unseen Fate is relatively benign: it’s Eros, not the Grim Reaper, that won’t be denied, playfully toying with Jonathan and Sarah before their ultimate reunion.

Timing is absolutely crucial: the pair keep just missing each other, one entering the frame as the other exits, the gently propulsive score keeping things moving along so quickly we never worry about such secondary matters as plausibility. While Cusack’s nice-guy routine is getting decidedly stale, the classy Beckinsale, Levy and Corbett (hilarious as Sarah’s po-faced, soulful hippie-crossover musician, a cousin of Owen Wilson’s Hansel from Zoolander) easily compensate. Most important of all, Chelsom handles both the clever structure and the crucial small details with a very light touch. After the debacle of Town and Country, it’s as if he’s like Van Orton escaping from that rapidly sinking taxi in The Game, surging away from the wreckage with all the natural buoyancy he can muster.

19th December, 2001
(seen Dec-13-01, Warner Village, Newcastle)

by Neil Young
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