September 27, 2001

Tempting Fate

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It’s human nature to second guess the decisions that one makes, especially those decisions regarding the opposite sex. Let’s face it, most of our conversations with friends are spent bemoaning the fact that we are still wistfully wishing for the courage to talk to that certain someone … that one person who sets our hearts aflutter. And, after kicking ourselves due to our wimpiness, it’s also human nature to consciously plague our thoughts with that insidiously demanding question: the what if. In typical John Cusack fashion, this is exactly the type of question that plagues the minds of both main characters in the new romantic comedy, Serendipity.

The film begins with a chance meeting in a department store, as John Trager and Sara Thomas (played by John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, respectively) both reach for the same pair of black cashmere gloves. Even though the two are both shopping for their significant others, they manage to spend a quality amount of time with each other in the aptly named Serendipity cafe, and then skating in Rockerfeller Center. When the time comes to go their separate ways, Sara attempts to hand John her phone number, only to have it blown away by the rush of a passing truck. Sara’s obsession with fate leads her to develop a roundabout way for the two would be sweethearts to contact each other: Sara writes her information in a book and promises to sell it, while making John write his name and number on a $5 bill, which she promptly spends.

The story that ensues centers around the two characters and their personal battles with the question, “what if I didn’t let that one get away?” Although the audience will find Cusack true to form in this wistfully searching love-lorn character, he still manages to play the part with adept acting, wit, and his trademark nice guy demeanor. Apparently, Cusack isn’t one to dis and dismiss the stereotyping that so many Hollywood actors strive to avoid: he knows what on-screen personality works for him and he embraces it. As a relative newcomer to leading roles in blockbuster films, Kate Beckinsale is also fittingly portrays the female version of the eternal love optimist.

Cusack and Beckinsale also have great chemistry on-screen. They make their characters’ obvious soulmate match extremely believable. It’s virtually impossible not to want these two together, although the love story suspense that the movie’s plotline delivers may have some of the less romantic audience members clutching their popcorn and soda in frustration. A warning to those who plan on seeing this movie: the Fate factor is off the scales, and may make it difficult for even the most optimistic and hopelessly romantic audience member to sit, transfixed, before the theater screen.

Fate is made into an active intangible catalyst in this film; the audience is exposed to its omnipotence, almost as much as a main character’s screen-time. As the driving force behind both John’s and Sara’s attitudes toward each other, Fate plays a major role in every scene, regardless of the believability of the chain of events. It causes such rational events as the phone number blowing away, and such irrational events as Sara hopping into a cab that John has just vacated, as the two clamber around New York City searching for each other.

Surprisingly, unlike Fate, the sappiness of the movie is quite bearable, as it is interspersed with frequent and entertaining comedic interludes. Fans of John Cusack’s trademark nice guy sarcasm will laugh heartily in response to lines from Cusack, as well as the rest of the cast. It is a great tribute to the direction of this film that the ridiculousness of the storyline is portrayed realistically. The characters know their actions are ludicrous, but they can’t help following through with their desires, managing to give the audience a typical feel-good movie.

Archived article by Katie Porch