New York movies are back in vogue, with the Twin Towers carefully edited out of shots of the Manhattan skyline; and romantic comedies simply have a universal appeal to them. Serendipity delivers some of the institutions tourists would associate with ’80s New York: Bloomingdale’s, the Waldorf, the Central Park ice skating rink, the Subway, and of course, Serendipity (the all time best place for hot chocolate in the City).
John Cusack is delightful as Jonathan, a 30-something, well-adjusted New Yorker searching, just like the rest of us, for the woman of his dreams. He’s the guy you remember as being wickedly witty in high school, sort of good-looking and boyishly charming. Life is good if not somewhat banal until he meets Sara, a quirky, beautiful Englishwoman with a hugely hokey dependence on fate. Ah, she seems the perfect woman, but can Jonathan reconcile her fate mania with his own self-deterministic view of his life?
The answer has to be yes when the woman in question is Kate Beckinsale. She’s trapped in an uneasy relationship with her new age musician boyfriend on the West Coast. But she really wants to be with someone where the electricity hasn’t disappeared after the first five minutes. She wants someone who’s less self-absorbed than the new ager with a constant need for reaffirmation. She really wants to be in New York. But she’s loyal . . . and hopelessly dependent on fate.
She casts a serious wrench in the works, refusing to tell him her full name, or letting him tell her his. Instead, she leaves their finding each other up to either finding a $5 bill that she has made him write his name and number on, or a copy of Love In The Time of Cholera by Milan Kundera, in which she writes her own name and number. Will it be fate or rather, some combination of coincidence and dumb luck that will reunite the lovers?
While Cusack and Beckinsale are a pleasure to watch and there is a rare chemistry between the two that’s extremely believable, Serendipity falls short. The opening scene sets up events to come far too obviously and the script is lazy and a bit of a clich‚. Supporting characters are given short shrift-other than Jonathan’s delightful friend Dean, played by Jeremy Piven. Dean is the sort of friend everyone hopes they have: fiercely loyal, adequately critical when necessary but supportive, sometimes embarrassing, always delightful.
These are difficult times and no one wants to see a movie that requires an excessive thinking commitment, after all. Serendipity certainly makes one more optimistic about life, finding a soulmate, love and most important of all, New York. Particularly if you’re having second thoughts about the virtues of New York, this movie serves as a resounding “Yes.”