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Great Title, Bad Movie

By Amy Meadows

staff writer

Directed by Peter Chelsom.

Written by Mark Klein

Starring John Cusack, Kate Beckinsdale, Jeremy Piven, and Molly Shannon.

Rated PG-13.

Serendipity means a fortunate coincidence, such as when Jon (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsdale) meet over gloves at Bloomingdale’s. However, the next hour of the movie named after the encounter is anything but a lucky chance; in fact, I found it a rather unfortunate coincidence that I happened to be watching Serendipity.

In the first 20 minutes, Jon and Sara meet, fall in love, and -- due to a twist of fate -- are separated. Those 20 minutes could have been an entire movie in itself, and maybe a better movie than the entirety of this one. The rest of Serendipity consists of a flurry of near encounters with one another and failed attempts to reconcile themselves with the past and the present.

Even though Sara is a psychologist, the two protagonists are very maladjusted people. On the verge of committing to marriage, they both search high and low for the other, wondering what their life would be like if they could just live like that night they met. Both characters lie to their fiancÉes and manipulate their best friends in order to have a shot at finding the other. In the real world, they would have to grow up and face reality at some point. Instead, the characters are driven to are selfish and shortsighted ends, to say the least. Life is simply much too short for the scenario here.

The movie continually emphasized the theme of fate and chance, and I, for one, do not enjoy a movie clobbering me over the head with the point. It wastes my time and it wastes the time of those who invested their talent in the movie. Cusack showed that he was capable of a romantic lead in Grosse Pointe Blank, but in this he is tremendously under-utilized.

We barely learn more about his character than we knew from the outset: he has a girlfriend and he likes Sara. Cusack certainly has come a long way from his bit part in Sixteen Candles, but I am not sure whether this was positive or negative progress. Although Beckinsdale has not had much of an opportunity to thoroughly showcase her abilities, but throughout the movie, she gives some small glimmers of hope that she could do more. Instead of being whimsical, frivolous, or dramatic, as her character suggests, she is an accessory, like the knock-off Prada wallet she carries. Serendipity does not fail from lack of talent, but from talent’s misuse.

I guessed the ending from about the first five minutes of the movie; it is certainly not a challenging conclusion to draw. Although the ending was entirely predictable, the rest of the movie could have been innovative or at least witty, but it falls in the rut of the well-traveled route. Serendipity is mindless, feel-good mush; even the names of the lead characters, Jon and Sara, are bland.

It is a rare distinction indeed to say that this romantic comedy is almost entirely joyless. The few moments of genuine comedy are provided by Jeremy Piven (PCU, Ellen). An obituary writer for the New York Times, he gives a hilarious toast to Jon and his fiancÉe, and provides enthusiastic support for all of Jon’s half-cocked ideas, even flying all night to San Francisco. Molly Shannon, as Sara’s best friend, is a cynical, realistic owner of a new-age store. She provides a needed balance to the movie, questioning and criticizing her best friend’s actions.

Serendipity fails to put forth a compelling argument for its existence, and it shows. The plot buckles under the weight of forced coincidences and contrived acting. The theme of coincidence, the twists of fate stitching the leads together and rending them apart, the search for a soul mate have elsewhere been funnier, better, and more compelling.