Serendipity directed by Peter Chelsom, written by Marc Klein, produced by Peter Abrams, Robert L. Levy and Simon Fields, with John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven and Molly Shannon. A Tapestry Films production. An Alliance Atlantis release. 86 minutes. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 95. Rating: NN
serendipity has to work way too hard to fulfill its destiny. It wants to be the ultimate fate-will-bring-us-together romantic drama, but movies like this shouldn't feel this strained. Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) star as strangers who meet five days before Christmas at Bloomingdale's department store. They both reach for the last pair of black cashmere gloves, and their good-natured bickering bristles with chemistry. They go out for dessert, and Jonathan wants to give Sara his name and number. But she believes in destiny, so she makes him write his info on a $5 bill, and she writes hers on the inside of a book -- if they're meant to be together, the bill and the book will find their way back into their lives.
Seven years later, they're both engaged to other people but can't forget that fateful meeting. They start a manic hunt for one another.
Throughout the search, everyone, including Jonathan's pal (Jeremy Piven) and Sara's chum (Molly Shannon), yammers on about the meaning of soulmates, not letting love slip through your fingers and blah blah blah. I'm an easy mark for a good onscreen romance, but when a film shoves love down your throat like this, the magic disappears.
Romance works best when the small moments between two people -- they brush fingers reaching for the same cup, or laugh at the same part in a story -- are simply observed and not commented upon.
Serendipity winds up being a running commentary in which we hear exactly what the characters feel about the nature of love. Cusack, who was tailor-made to play the part of a bitter romantic in High Fidelity, is miscast here in the part of a fully functioning romantic.
Cusack, who's naturally apprehensive, makes skepticism charming. That's why Woody Allen cast him as his surrogate in Bullets Over Broadway. Unfortunately, his boyish cynicism infects his performance here. Jonathan needs to be a dreamier character if we're going to fall for this pre-ordained love story.
Beckinsale does an admirable job as the "quirky British girl," but she looks as if she feels constrained in a part that goes from whimsical to desperate in 86 minutes.