Serendipity (2001)

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In which love means never having to say…anything. They should just know, dammit!

2001’s Serendipity tells the tale of Jon and Sara, who meet-cute when reaching for the same pair of cashmere gloves at Bloomingdales and fall in love over hot chocolate, ice-skating and superficial chit-chat.

Sara is a big believer in fate and destiny and so she decides the couple shouldn’t share their names or any important details about themselves. Instead, she insists that, while they clearly have a connection, if they are truly meant to be together, they will meet again and it would be interfering with the order of the universe to do something as basic as exchange contact details.

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Who we are is unimportant.

Jon, meanwhile, is a believer in chance or serendipity (Ha! That’s the title!). He tries to convince Sara that the fact they met in a city as bustling as New York means that there is already some magic in their meeting, but she is resistant to his logic. Still, as a way of giving the fates a nudge, they write down their names and numbers. Sara writes hers in a copy of Love in the time of Cholera and drops it off at a used bookstore, and Jon writes his on a $5 bill which she spends on a little product placement.

Sara “reasons” that if they’re fated to be a couple and spend their weekends wandering aimlessly through Ikea, then the lucre will find its way back to her and the tome to him. And Jon, probably because he wants to get laid, reluctantly agrees to this plan.

Cut to years later, a little older, but no closer to being together Sara and Jon are now engaged to other people. Jon has a beautiful, considerate, doting fiancé who he is, of course, unhappy with, while Sara is engaged to a Kenny G type musician who is an arsehole. That’s the sum total of his characterisation; self-involved arsehole. Presumably so we won’t think less of Sara when she leaves him for her “soulmate”.

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We are told consistently through the movie that both Jon and Sara are good people. In fact, their respective best friends seem to be characters that were invented solely for this purpose. Sadly, much of the praise about the content of their character is contradicted when they interact with their significant others.

For a start, neither Jon nor Sara are happy in their relationships, which makes you wonder why they bothered getting engaged at all.

Jon appears irritated and indifferent to his fiancé’s growing neurosis and anxiety about both their wedding and a distance she senses between them. The movie seems to think we’ll find her clingy and too brittle to be likeable, but the problem is SHE’S RIGHT!

It is completely understandable that she would be unsettled by her fiancé toying with her emotions right before their wedding. Jon, our hero, even tells her, bluntly that he has cold feet.

Who wouldn’t be freaked out by that?

It’s later revealed that Jon has looked inside every used copy of Love in a Time of Cholera since he and his fiancé met.

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Which means, that while he was getting to know the woman that would become his future fiancé, while they were sharing a home and planning their future together, he was still pining for Sara. A woman he knew for less time than it takes to pass through airport security at LAX.

Ugh!

Sara, meanwhile, is less than happy about playing second fiddle to her fiancé’s career, but rather than use her words, like a big girl, she hops a plane to the Big Apple. Dragging her best friend along under the guise of a birthday treat, Sara searches for Jon in the places he mentioned during their brief interaction years before.

By the time the two get together (sorry, SPOILER ALERT) it could be argued that they’ve been brought together by sheer necessity rather than destiny. After all, by this point they’ve destroyed their existing relationships. Jon’s jilted his bride minutes before their wedding disappointing and inconveniencing friends and family, and neither of them have a place to live anymore.

They’ve burned so many bridges they have to make this thing work.

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“I guess we could crash on that bench tonight.”

To be honest, it’s a relief when they do reunite because these two deserve each other.

It’s clear the movie is interested in creating some sort of magical realism, but the only real magic it achieves is managing to passing off two monumentally selfish f*cks as romantic leads. This is largely due to some pretty cinematography, some clever misdirection and the herculean efforts of its lead actors John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.

The real problem with the movie though, is it doesn’t go far enough. In order for this premise to work, it needs to be a black comedy with Sara demanding ever more erratic and dangerous acts from Jon to test whether they are destined to be together. She could have him jump onto a moving train, or run into oncoming traffic, or participate in a duel with live ammo.

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Or whatever this is.

If he lives, they were meant to be. If not, guess not.

There’s your tagline, Hollywood!

Serendipity could be a movie about what a man, who doesn’t like himself very much, will put himself through to keep the attention of a woman with a pretty face but no soul. As it is, Serendipity isn’t a romantic comedy because it’s neither funny nor romantic. Unless you find someone jilting their fiancé hours before their wedding, inconveniencing everyone they know and embarking on a rebound relationship with their ‘soulmate’ minutes later, romantic.

If so, it’s perfect for you.

I just find that behaviour damned irresponsible.

Personally, I’ve always felt the whole “they’re my soulmate” thing to be the romantic equivalent of “God told me to”. Just as much damage has been wrought by that one wrong-headed belief than by any devotion to a deity or organised religion.

Albeit, much of that damage is internal and hard to spot.

Maybe that’s the reason why this movie did so well when it came out, opening at number two at the US box office on the 13th of September, 2001.

Because, when you consider the terrible people, who did terrible things and the very real, very tangible damage they caused only a few days before, I can understand how Jon and Sara’s dirty deeds could go unnoticed.

At that point in time, maybe all audiences wanted was to watch pretty people in pretty places doing expensive things.

Maybe they needed that.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this.

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