"Sweet November" may be a work of romantic hokum about a savage power-yuppie who learns to slow down and discover love in the arms of a quirky, perky girl with a tragic secret -- but as such sappy movies go, this is one that hits all the right notes.
Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron proved they have couples chemistry as husband and wife in "The Devil's Advocate." Here they do the opposites-attract thing with great success and use their charisma to overcome what by all rights should be a script full of romantic clichés.
Reeves plays shallow, ruthless, arrogant ad industry hotshot Nelson Moss, who shows his astronomical self-centeredness in the picture's opening scene. It's early morning and he's having sex with his girlfriend -- until his alarm clock goes off. The second it does, he says "thanks, that was great" before jumping up, walking across his uber-modern high-rent loft, turning on his entire wall of high-tech TVs and brainstorming an ad campaign for a major client.
Theron plays Sara Deever, a San Francisco "free spirit" who has a strange habit of taking in stray men who are psychological fixer-uppers. She moves them into her North Beach apartment for one month, uses her unexplained gift for metaphysical bandaging to set them right, then moves on to the next fella.
When these two meet during a debacle at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Sara immediately sees in Nelson her most challenging project yet and begins hassling him to move out of the Sharper Image condo and into her funky, low-rent walk-up for 30 days.
He, of course, thinks she's nuts. But when he loses a multi-million dollar account (by proposing a highly sexualized campaign for a family-oriented hot dog company), gets fired and his much-neglected girlfriend moves out -- all on the same day -- he succumbs to Sara's badgering. He figures, at least for the moment, he hasn't anything to lose.
Theron is perfectly cast as the effervescent Sara, who seems to have double-dipped in the joie de vivre. She completely inhabits her character's contagious carefree charm, making the audience fall in love with her even faster than Nelson does. Theron provides the character an esoteric depth, giving her man-a-month habit a nagging feeling of desperate compulsion.
She's also the ideal foil for Nelson's funless, judgmental glibness. Sara can so easily and cheerfully slap his ego down that she makes him nervous. She's the kind of grown-up girl who does cartwheels on the beach while he watches with his hands thrust misanthropically in his pockets.
Reeves, who has become much better at picking roles that suit him, fits well into Nelson's supercilious skin. He really turns on the hubris in the scenes that lead to him getting fired. He also does a fine job projecting the unaccustomed abashment Nelson feels when Sara takes charge of his life.
As their month together progresses, his transformation into a stop-and-smell-the-roses guy under her tutelage is altogether quite winning. Too bad he's so unconvincing when it comes time for this movie's "you complete me"-type romantic climax.
But director Pat O'Connor ("Circle of Friends," "Inventing the Abbotts") never lets the movie's hackneyed conventions (Nelson revisiting his unhappy childhood, Sara's gay best friend) steamroll over the magnetism between his stars.
Romance movie protocols are followed (a passionate argument in the rain, a bubble bath for two), but seasoned with a touch of imaginative enthusiasm. Dialogue is amusingly sassy, but not overindulgently clever. O'Connor even keeps the story's fateful, tearjerker plot turn on a short leash, playing the heartstrings obligingly but tenderly.
"Sweet November" (which, by the way, is a remake of a 1968 movie of the same name) may have an obvious story arc. It may, at its core, be a textbook chick flick punctuated by a soundtrack of smoky-voiced girly alt-pop anthems (Enya, Stevie Nicks, Paula Cole, k.d. lang).
But it is sweet. It is eminently romantic, warm and satisfying. And even if Keanu's heart-rending tears in the last reel look suspiciously like special effects, this is a movie likely to inspire the real thing in the softies in the audience. And even we cynics will feel a little warm and fuzzy when the credits roll.
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th February 2001
Box Office USA: $24.4M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Bel Air Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 81
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Pat O'Connor
Starring: Keanu Reeves as Nelson, Charlize Theron as Sara, Jason Isaacs as Chaz, Greg Germann as Vince, Lauren Graham as Angelica, Michael Rosenbaum as Brandon, Frank Langella as Edgar Price, Robert Joy as Raeford Dunne, Liam Aiken as Abner, Jason Kravits as Manny, June Carryl as Beatrice, Kelvin Han Yee as Burly Man, David Fine as Homeless Person, Diane Amos as Rachel, Coffee Shop Waitress
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