Serendipity

There’s always been something a little too cutesy about the word "serendipity." It sounds like a department store knockoff of a Calvin Klein fragrance, or a cushy rehab clinic for the rich and famous, or a cloying and labored romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Since this is culturevulture.net and not Perfume Weekly or Twelve Steps to Sobriety, let us concern ourselves with the latest Miramax release, Serendipity.

Lovable lug Jonathan Trager (Cusack) meets British sweetie pie Sara Thomas (Beckinsale) when they bump heads while reaching for the same pair of gloves in a crowded New York department store. Screenwriter Marc Klein must be very proud of himself for coming up with this clever gambit, which has only been employed an estimated 3,847 times since the birth of cinema. Anyway, there’s an instant attraction between Jonathan and Sara, despite the fact that both are otherwise spoken for in the relationship department. They have lattes at a trendy coffee joint named – holy smokes – "Serendipity," they go skating at Rockefeller Center, they hit it off beautifully. But when the time comes for Jonathan to ask Sara for her phone number, the plot mechanics kick into overdrive.

It seems Sara is a true believer in fate – or what you might call "serendipity." She writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, which she promises to sell to a used bookstore. If Jonathan manages to find the book at some point in the years to come, it means they were meant to be together. Jonathan writes his name and number on a five dollar bill, which is then released into the American economy with the same proviso: should it someday come back into Sara’s possession, serendipity has decreed this couple be reunited.

Years pass. Jonathan is about to be married. Sara is living in San Francisco with a New Age-y master of the oboe named Lars. Yet both are still haunted by their memories of that magical night. They simultaneously begin a desperate search for each other. Coincidences mount. Their paths criss-cross several times over, without their knowledge. The book turns up again, and so does the five dollar bill. We’re meant to accept contrivances and leaps of logic that wouldn’t pass muster on a Three’s Company episode, all because of…that word. The S-word. The one that rhymes with Karen Zippety.

It’s not all bad. John de Borman’s lush cinematography infuses several key sequences with a romantic aura they haven’t otherwise earned. Jeremy Piven manages to squeeze a few laughs out of his "best friend" role; it’s a part he could play in his sleep by now, but fortunately does not. And Cusack and Beckinsale are both charming – they strike enough sparks in their few scenes together to make a more substantial pairing seem like an idea worth pursuing.

Should you see the movie? Here’s a tip: write your name on a ten dollar bill and put it into circulation. If it comes back to you, that means you were meant to spend it on a ticket to Serendipity. If not, congratulations. Fate has set you free.

Scott Von Doviak

poster from MovieGoods