' ' Cinema Romantico: In Defense of Serendipity

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In Defense of Serendipity

All right, it's time for an explanation. I'm tired of hiding in the darkness, feigning embarrassment and making excuses. It's time for honesty. I like the movie "Serendipity". It makes me happy. And I think it's good, truly and deeply and down to its core.

Let me be clear, it is not a guilty pleasure movie. We all have those but that is a movie wherein we know it's bad and admit it's bad and still like it anyway. I do not think it's bad. I hold the opinion that is, in fact, quite good. You may not agree. In fact, pretty much everyone I know does not agree. Admittedly, it is a formulaic film. It is a romantic comedy. It is schmaltz. I'm aware of this. And yet..........

Raise your hand if you're familiar with Bob Beamon. Bob Beamon was the man who at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics set the world record in the long jump with a leap of 29 feet 2 1/2 inches. Now, there are a few interesting notes regarding this record. His jump on that day broke the existing world record by nearly two feet. He became the first man to not only jump further than 29 feet but the first man to jump further than 28 feet. No long jumper would even reach 28 feet again for another 12 years. But here's the kicker - prior to that fateful day Beamon had never jumped further than 27 feet 3 inches and after that fateful day he never jumped further than 27 feet. Think about that for a moment.

"Serendipity" is my movie equivalent of Bob Beamon.

Nothing prior to it and nothing after it would ever indicate in any fashion that "Serendipity" is a movie I would love let alone tolerate. But somehow on that fateful fall evening I watched it for the first time everything - my emotional state, the movie gods, whatever else - came together and I fell deeply in love with a movie I would ordinarily have no business loving.

A vital sequence occurs midway through when John Cusack (our lead) and Jeremy Piven (filling the “best friend” role) travel to an apartment service company in an attempt to track down an old address for Mr. Cusack's soulmate (Kate Beckinsale). The valorous temp manning the desk explains he can’t provide this info as it is against the law. Of course, in the end, he does provide the info. This is why it’s key. Are you the type of annoying movie-watcher who would instantly comment, “That would never happen in real life.” Or are you the type of movie-watcher who would holler, “Go, temp, go!”

Most people with whom I discuss this movie instantly want to discredit it due to its lack of being associated with reality. For instance, rather than Kate Beckinsale simply providing her phone # to John Cusack after sharing the special evening which constitutes the first act, she decides they should each send something out into the world (a $5 dollar for him, a used book for her) with their respective phone #'s to let fate decide if and when they should meet again. "Why wouldn't she just give him her phone number?" people immediately ask. Meanwhile, the vein in my head bulges and threatens to pop as I endure their empty rhetoric.

Of course, it isn't based in reality. It's not going for real drama or real emotional payoffs. Why are people so angry at "Serendipity" for not being "Sophie's Choice"? People blather on about the fact that movies cannot violate the world in which they exist. Fair enough. "Serendipity" immediately establishes itself as existing in a world where a guy and a girl can meet when trying to purchase the same pair of gloves by using dialogue that sounds as if a screenwriter coached them in their respective apartments just before setting out on their shopping expedition and never violates that world for the remainder of the movie's running time.

The typical romantic comedy sets itself up as a fantasy and then at some point (usually in the third act) changes course and wants you to view its characters and situations as being based in reality. "Serendipity" does not. It establishes itself as a fairytale and stays that way to the very last frame.

Another common complaint is the fate of John Cusack’s fiancé, the one he spurns to track down Kate Beckinsale. But it doesn't matter what happens to his fiancé. As I stated moments ago, this is a fairytale. The definition we find of fairytale here advises us that is a "highly implausible story". If "Serendipity" were a story grounded in plausibility then the fiancé would function as a real character and then her fate would matter. But as it is a fairytale, and therefore not grounded in plausibility, the fiancé does not function as a real character and her fate is inconsequential. She exists merely to act as the catalyst which sends our hero on his quest for girl proper.

“Serendipity” fans care not at all for plausibility. We are hopeless romantics. We believe in fate, and in destiny, and in soulmates. The spurned fiancé is nice enough but we realize she is not John Cusack's soulmate. Duh. Kate Beckinsale is.

If you’re rooting for the spurned fiancé (or even wanting to know what happens to the spurned fiancé) you're probably the same type of person who wonders why in "Titanic" Jack didn't angle the door so both Rose AND he could get on. You're the type of person who should not even be allowed into movie theaters.

For a very long time I was ashamed to admit how much I liked the movie. Then for awhile I chose to call it a guilty pleasure but that wasn't accurate either. But I'm ashamed no longer. Today I will tell you precisely what "Serendipity" is and always will be - one of my favorite movies.


Anonymous said...

I cannot BELIEVE the amount of crap I get from you about the horrible movies I like, yet you write a quite volumous tome praising the inconsistencies and plot deviations of "Serendipity." Yes, I want to know what happened to the ex-fiance. Just as I want to know what happened to the ex-fiance in "Titanic." (I don't accept that liar's explanation). I also want to know what happened to the Wizard in "The Wizard of Oz," and I want to know why Chris Klein didn't just vote for himself in "Election." It would have saved all the problems. Plus, George Clooney's more talented half-brother shouldn't have pissed off Ronny Cox in "RoboCop." That's just a bad move, Miguel.

Anyway, I give this movie three and a half stars. John Cusack was whimsical and engaging, and Kate Beckinsale charms. A new holiday classic.

The Fab Miss B said...

oh.my.god. Not only do you not think Borat was complete genius, now you're telling me that Serendipity is a classic romantic comedy? I'll agree that romantic comedies require that we susped disbelief, that most of them have cheesy set-ups. But sometimes they deliver something extra, like subplots and good character development. In this movie, all those things are missing and the characters are reduced to cardboard cutouts of themselves. I'll have to watch it again to really go in detail about why its sooooo crappy, but I don't have any objections to it because of the premise...its the content that is so crap-tacular. They didn't do enough with the hoakey set-up and so it all feel apart for me...But Nick, as always, a lovely enjoyable blog. Thinking of you 1819 boys while we are away.