Serendipity (2001) Movie Review

If you’re one of those people who sat down to watch Serendipity and wondered how it’s all going to end, then you need to slip back under the rock. Serendipity is essentially a Chick Flick, of which there are two subgenres — those made exclusively for women and those made for women to drag their boyfriend or significant other to. Peter Chelsom’s Serendipity falls under the second category. The most notable convention of a Chick Flick is sex without skin — meaning sexual relations without nudity. Essentially PG or PG-13 films, since as we all know (wink wink) women don’t equate “love” with “gratuitous nudity.” Which his too bad, but that’s another review.

Serendipity stars John Cusack as Jonathan and British export Kate Beckinsale as Sara, two strangers who meet by accident in a department store one Christmas night while shopping for their significant others. They immediately sense chemistry and after a night of talking and romancing, decide to let fate determine rather they should see each other again. (Well, actually, it’s the romantic-minded Sara who decides to let fate take its course. Gee, aren’t women romantic? Shucks.) So Jonathan writes his name and phone number on a $5 dollar bill and Sara does likewise to the inside jacket of a book, and casts both items into the world.

Her theory is this: If either item should come back to them sometime in the future it means they’re destined to be with each other and only then should they attempt a love affair. Years go by and the two have gone on with their lives — he in New York, she in San Francisco. Not only that, but they’re both engaged to be married. As the days toward their individual relationship approaches the point of no return (re: marriage), they both decide to set off in search of one another one last time…

If you don’t know how Serendipity is going to end, then it’s time to take your pills. If there’s one question that remains to be discovered in Serendipity, it’s not if they’ll find each other (for God’s sake, it’s a Chick Flick, of course they’re going to find each other!) but how entertaining their individual searches for each other will be. Another question is this: how many times can director Peter Chelsom and writer Marc Klein pull the ol “they’re so close to finding each other if only they’ll look in this direction and spot each other” and get away with it. The filmmakers used this gimmick sparingly, and thank God, because I whole-heartedly despise the gimmick. (If you’re interested, I counted only twice?)

As to the search, which takes up most of the movie’s short running length, I can safely say that it’s pretty entertaining. Of course, both lovelorn soulmates have best friends to help them in the search. Cusack has Dean (Jeremy Piven) and Sara has Eve (Molly Shannon, of TV’s “SNL”). Both Dean and Eve are funny and quirky enough to make their respective searching scenes funny. This is very important, as the best friend is always the comic foil to the main character’s straight man, and it’s up to the best friend to provide most of the movie’s laughs. It’s expected, it’s very much needed, and Serendipity has two good role players in Piven and Shannon.

Adding to the cast is Eugene Levy, who plays a strict Bloomingdale’s counter salesman who takes over the 3 quick scenes that he’s in. The rest of the cast, including Bridget Moynahan as Halley, Jonathan’s fianc’, and John Corbett as Lars, Sara’s Yanni-like fianc’, does fine in their roles, although they’re much too peripheral to make any emotional impact on the audience. Incidentally, the two main Jonathan and Sarah actually only interact for about 15 minutes of the entire film, 10 minutes in the beginning and 5 more in the end. Now you know why it’s imperative the movie have two good sidekicks in Piven and Shannon.

While watching Serendipity it occurred to me that this is the kind of movie only women who are hopeless romantics could love. Why? Because not only do Jonathan and Sara act impulsively, but they also treat their respective fianc’s like dirt. Even as he’s doing wedding rehearsals with Halley and her family, Jonathan is running around town trying to find out Sara’s last name and contact her. The same is true for Sara. She’s flying to New York with Eve to locate Jonathan even after accepting Lars’ proposal, unceremoniously leaving him in San Francisco.

If not for the inherent likeability of Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack, an audience could have found a lot of qualities not to like in our leads. Fortunately, Serendipity chose its lead players correctly. Beckinsale is cute and shines and it’s quite impossible to dislike her. Equally, Cusack is so manic and desperate in his search for Sara that there’s no time to hate what his character is doing to his fianc’, who from all accounts is very undeserving of his treatment of her.

Serendipity is a harmless little film. It’s a Chick Flick to be sure, and only its targeted female audience can ignore the “ditch my fianc’ at the church to search for a woman I haven’t seen in 7 years” plot and just concentrate on the “Gee, they’re looking for their soulmate, isn’t it romantic?” aspect of the film.

Peter Chelsom (director) / Marc Klein (screenplay)
CAST: John Cusack …. Jonathan Trager
Kate Beckinsale …. Sara Thomas
Bridget Moynahan …. Halley Buchanan
Kate Blumberg …. Courtney
Jeremy Piven …. Dean Kansky
Molly Shannon …. Eve

Buy Serendipity on DVD