Sweet November



US 2001
director : Pat O’Connor
script : Kurt Voelker (story by Voelker and Paul Yurick, based on a screenplay by Herman Raucher)
cinematography : Edward Lachman
editing : Annie V Coates
stars : Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Jason Isaacs, Greg Germann
119 minutes

Keanu Reeves is making some odd choices between his Matrix commitments – Sweet November isn’t quite as bad as either The Gift or The Watcher, but none of the three could ever be mistaken for worthwhile movies. November actually manages to be quite impressive for its first hour – unfortunately, there’s a whole other hour left to go, and it’s pretty much downhill all the way. This is a remake of a half-forgotten 1968 original which starred Sandy Dennis as a ditzy hippy and Anthony Newley as the selfish careerist she’s determined to loosen up. The gimmick is she’ll go out with him for one month, and one month only . Here we have the rather more photogenic Theron (as Sarah) and Reeves (as Nelson) falling into each other’s arms, before events take an unexpectedly tragic turn.

November makes no bones about being a romantic, female-oriented, undemanding little (though long) date-movie, and there’s a surprising amount to like about it, at least until the halfway point when the tear-jerking moments are laid on with increasing heavy-handedness. Unlike, say, The Wedding Planner, Sweet November makes full use of its San Francisco locales, while avoiding picture-postcard prettiness – in fact, most of it takes place in the relatively scruffy Potrero Hills area, in the kind of high-ceilinged, bay-windowed rooms Deborah Kara Unger’s character supposedly inhabited in The Game. It’s hard to take too much offence at a film which, whenever a dog or cat appears on screen – no matter jow fleetingly –   puts an appropriate animal noise on the soundtrack, or that so forcefully demonises the mobile phone, that most   taken-for-granted prop in American movies.

Sweet November is happy to stay within the conventions of the romantic comedy – the scene where Reeves, – a single heterosexual young man – reacts to a visit from the stunningly beautiful Theron by threatening to call the police could only ever happen in films, but the appealing leads (a nice height match) make it easy to suspend disbelief. Reeves seems to be enjoying himself as this granite-voiced hard-ass, while Theron manages to pull off that trickiest of screen roles, the uninhibited free spirit, without becoming unbearably kooky: “When was the last time you spend a whole day outside?” she asks, and it’s not a bad question at all, though San Francisco in November seems awfully summery here.

Sad to say, all the good work in the first half – the agreeably loose indie feel of the lighting, cinematography and editing (by Out of Sight‘s Coates), the well-judged script and music – is pretty much undone by the often laughable developments towards the end. Early on, Nelson makes a comment about wanting to be a singer when he was young, and Sarah says “One day, you’ll sing for me.” Which means, of course, that we’re destined to hear Nelson warble a few notes. This might have been a plus back in ’68, as Newley was a chart-topping performer, but in 2001 it’s more likely to set off a rush from the exits. And yes, Keanu does try out his tonsils towards the end. It isn’t a highspot in his career.

But by this stage the movie has descended into a desperate grab-bag of melodramatic mawkishness, likely to set off audience giggles rather than sobs. Very few of the later scenes work, and you end up paying more attention to distractions like what must be the world’s lightest ‘dishwasher’, which the ailing Theron blithely tosses into the air and catches. Not even a late cameo from the marvellous, underused Frank Langella as an arrogant advertising bigwig can transcend the desperate staleness of the all-too-predictable script, which fizzles to a yawningly dull, emotionally unsatisfying final scene. Rent Harold and Maude instead.

6th April, 2001