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Serendipity Print E-mail
Tuesday, 09 April 2002


Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Molly Shannon, Bridget Moynahan, Eugene Levy
release year: 2001
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

"Serendipity" delivers exactly what it promises: a splendid romance with involving characters. Although Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) aren’t deep characters and the audience doesn’t get to discover much about their backgrounds during the course of the film, the viewer is willingly pulled into the gentle comedy and touching love story.

The movie opens with a Louis Armstrong number that rolls through the center strongly at first, then gradually drifts to the main speakers as the hue and cry of frantic Christmas shoppers swells. Jonathan and Sara both seize upon the same pair of black cashmere gloves, then proceed to debate who should actually them. The onscreen magnetism projected in the scene is a tangible thing. The two end up sharing a coffee.

However, Sara doesn’t want to give Jonathan her name or any information about herself. Obviously, Sara is superstitious for some reason, but the viewer is never quite cued in as to why. After the frozen hot chocolate, Jonathan continues arguing that they can’t just let the night and the moment pass. The viewer is pulled into the intensity of the conversation by the background music, which is eloquently performed throughout the film, and we’re placed on the New York street by the surrounding noises and the echo of the passing taxi that zips through the center and main speakers.

After parting, frustrated by not getting to know Sara and by her insistence that if things are meant to be, fate will find a way to arrange events so they meet again, Jonathan kicks a frozen puddle, which splashes through the main and center speakers and carries an echo through the subwoofer. Realizing that he’s also inadvertently splashed a couple of passersby, Jonathan goes after them, apologizing, and his voice retreats through the speakers as if he’s drawing away from the viewer.

Jonathan also discovers he has left his scarf. Trekking back to the shop, he finds that Sara also has returned. He points out to her that the meeting must have meant to be, and suggests that they go do something.

Chapter 2 shows the pair skating at an outdoor rink. The quiet of the rink and the faint sounds made by the other skaters lends an authentic audible background to Jonathan and Sara’s conversation. Gentle as the romance is, crackling good dialogue delivered in the quiet of the setting sounds sharp. When Sara asks about Jonathan’s favorite moment, he replies that "this one’s climbing the charts," and the viewer gets further drawn into the fantasy of two people falling in love.

However, every moviegoer knows that the course of two individuals coming together can’t be this smooth. Trouble starts to mount in Chapter 3. Finally successful in convincing Sara to give him her name and number, Jonathan presents his back for her to scribble the information on a note. A passing truck blasts through the surround sound system, probably with enough gusto to make most viewers unconsciously take a step back, and blows the note away. Sara insists that fate has stepped in, giving them a sign that they should remain apart.

Desperate, Jonathan convinces Sara that they have to do something. She has him write his name and phone number on a five-dollar bill, which she puts into circulation, and likewise writes her own information into a book. If she gets the bill back and/or he is reunited with the book, then they’re meant to find one another after all.

Then there is a wild race through the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Sara insists that they take separate cages. They will arrive on the same floor if their relationship is meant to be. They in fact do select the same floor, but fate steps in and Jonathan is cursed by having the cage stop at every floor.

The cuts between the floors with the arrival of Jonathan and his growing entourage, all of whom he has managed to tell the story to, is deft work on Director Peter Chelsom’s part and works well to bring the audience into the mad race. The aural effects generated by the elevator doors dinging at each arrival echo around the audience, adding to the intensity of the chase. Since this is the beginning of the movie, Jonathan arrives only seconds too late, believing he has missed the girl of his dreams.

Chapter 4 opens a few years later. The audience rejoins Jonathan at a dinner party celebrating his coming marriage to Hallie. Jeremy Piven stars as Dean, Jonathan’s best friend. Piven and Cusack have worked together in a number of movies, and the chemistry they generate during their buddy scenes is one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The music score, relying largely on acoustic guitar, shows another nice touch that has been added to the film. Often, the strings come to the forefront to underscore conversation, issuing from the center and main speakers, then retreats to a whisper in the front speakers. Even though he’s getting married, the audience discovers that Jonathan has never given up looking for the book that Sara signed all those years ago.

In Chapter 5, Sara is revealed to be a counselor who evidently specializes in helping people waylaid by love and their false expectations. Even though she’s helping these people, giving them talks that they should remain open to life, the audience knows that she secretly believes in soulmates. The strings in the music put in another appearance here, and the cry of the sea gulls out over the water sound plaintive, echoing with sweet sorrow from the main speakers.

The visit to the golf driving range in Chapter 6 has an interesting counterpoint to the conversations going on. The "thwacks" of the golf clubs meeting balls echoes around Jonathan and his film crew as they put together a video piece for ESPN News. During this time, Jonathan hears Sara’s name everywhere, including a serenade in stalled traffic. Of course, Jonathan wings over to best friend Dean and, in another of the great scenes between Cusack and Piven, persuades him to help with the quest. The subwoofer cuts in unexpectedly during the wild taxi rides all over the city, but pumps up the adrenaline: the chase for true love is once more underway!

Chapter 7 begins with Eastern music that crashes from the subwoofer and the front and center speakers, which we discover is made by Sara’s boyfriend Lars (John Corbett). Sara’s loneliness is also brought out poignantly by the strings again.

In Chapter 8, we see that Sara is still searching for the five-dollar bill with Jonathan’s name and number on it.

Chapter 9 shows more of Lars’ music, made even more eerie by the surround sound system. Deciding to take a last stab at finding Jonathan, Sara gets her best friend to accompany her to New York City. The music score during Sara’s flight rolls through the surround sound system, sparking the viewer’s adrenaline.

The imagery of the yellow sun in a blood-red sky and the gathering storm clouds segues into Jonathan’s own frantic search for a clue to Sara’s whereabouts in Chapter 10. Piven and Eugene Levy manage to steal the movie for a moment with their rapier wit and argument. Then Jonathan’s scream of discovery rips through the surround sound, rolling through the mains, then picking up in the center speaker. A jet that crosses the screen upon Sara’s arrival in New York passes through the speakers, giving the audience the impression that he or she is walking down the tarmac.

Piven also delivers a diatribe on dot-com millionaires that is absolutely lunatic and brilliant. Another nice visual touch is the presence of the Dalmatian that Jonathan gets tangled up with. Cusack is absolutely amazing while delivering his dialogue and dealing with the dog at the same time.

In Chapter 11, a driving backbeat echoes through the surround sound system, again illustrating how well the soundtrack delivers during the film. The performance between Cusack and Piven depicts a friendship between two individuals that everyone would want. If these guys are not best buddies in real life, they should be.

The music in Chapter 12 underscores all the emotion of the story playing out on the screen, pulling up from the mains to the center during a formal occasion. Another good audio touch is a cell phone conversation that recedes in the background as Sara walks away to be alone.

Chapter 15 holds the echoes of church bells that roll through the surround sound system. Two arrangements of strings swell delicately from the speakers, bringing the viewer’s tender emotions to the surface with the skill of a neurosurgeon, highlighting the bond between Jonathan and Dean.

Tracking through the deleted scenes shows different takes on some sequences while showing others that were removed entirely. The changes create a substantial difference, making "Serendipity" more innocent, less complicated and New Age, and more general.

"Serendipity" is a great piece of film for one of those slow nights when the viewer wants an easy story, or to take time out from a busy world and remember why he or she fell in love with the person he or she is with. The story plays simply, without complication, and gently massages the feelings that the story goes after.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
1.85:1, Enhanced For 16 X 9 Televisions
special features: Audio Commentary Track with Director Peter Chelsom; Behind-The-Scenes Starz Encore "On The Set"; Peter Chelsom’s Production Diary; Deleted Scenes With Commentary By Director Peter Chelsom; Still Gallery; Storyboard Comparisons; Theatrical Trailer; Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba

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