John Cusack is the man.
In the eighties, he defined the date movie as the uber-boyfriend in the classics Say Anything and Better Off Dead. He played the sharp-witted con whiz kid along side Angelica Huston in The Grifters. He took cues from Clint Eastwood and kept up with Kevin Spacey in the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Most recently, in High Fidelity, Cusack brought Nick Hornby, Jack Black, and the Beta Band to the masses (not to mention bringing about the return of ultra-saucy supersexy Lisa Bonet).
So after taking a few mammoth steps towards Oscarville what does Cusack do (well, okay, besides America’s Sweethearts – forget about that, you were having a strange dream)?
Return to the Date Flick.
PG-13 for sexuality, language
Serendipity stars Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven, and Molly Shannon. The film surrounds two intelligent, attractive young people (Cusack and Beckinsale), who meet through a fortuitous accident in a department store. While both are already spoken for, the attraction is unmistakable, so they end up spending some time together. Sparks fly, love is in the air, constellations and skating rinks etc .etc.
Throughout the rest of the film, the would-be couple (who have left their next meeting up to the whims of fate) attempt to locate each other, nearly missing each other and dealing with the emotions of their friends and prospective spouses.
If you’ve seen the preview for Serendipity, you already know all of this.
(On an extended side note – who the hell they hiring these days to produce movie previews. Freakin’ ridiculous I tell ya. These guys - they take a look at over 90 minutes of footage and the only way they can figure out to capture people’s attention is to tell the entire story? Case in point, the new Leelee Sobieski flick Joy Ride where two guys piss off the wrong trucker and get chased down for their lives. I mean, come on, I have zero reason to watch that film after seeing the preview, ‘cause I’ve already seen the entire movie. Jeez freakin’ louise. For a great example of a movie trailer, check out the Vincent Gallo film from a few years back, Buffalo 66. Primarily still pictures, interesting montage, awesome music, not one scene from the movie. Breathtaking. Come on, guys, just an inch more ingenuity, please? End of rant.)
Anyway, so what we have here is your basic date flick formula. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy finds girl. Vice versa. Happiness abounds.
Simple but Good.
While Serendipity is chock full of annoyingly predictable moments, it manages to transcend its genre through interesting cinematography, great acting, and solid writing (all props, in fact to rookie writer Marc Klein, whose only other credits include a spot as “Assistant to Mr. Turtletaub”, the director of While You Were Sleeping). The chemistry between Cusack and Piven (the result of a longstanding friendship and acting collaboration) works terrifically for some hilarious moments.
The NYC winter romance vibe (at a time where maybe the city could use a little warm and fuzzy not related to tragedy) is amplified by director Peter Chelsom’s subtle, unimposing tendency to look around tastefully where other films of this ilk wouldn’t bother. Molly Shannon steps up to the plate (and beyond her armpit-sniffing SNL gig) in her dramedic role as Beckinsale‘s girlfriend, and uber-boyfriend #2 John Corbett— better known as Chris from Northern Exposure — plays a grand new-age ladies man.
Like any good Cusack date film, the storyline teeters dangerously close to cheesy while failing to fall into the pitfalls of depressing paposity. While the finale doesn’t touch the Jack Black version of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” in High Fidelity, the results are as pleasing as could be expected (except of course for the infamous dismemberment scene). No matter how skeptical you are about this flick after seeing the preview or how bored you are with warm and fuzzy romanticomedies, check this one out. It will do fabulously at the box office and rightfully so.