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Jeremy Piven, Eugene Levy, and John Cusack search for clues to find Sara.

John Cusack
and Kate Beckinsale --
fated lovers?

Serendipity (2001) starstarstar
Reviewed 2001-05-10: This film might have been called Chances Are, but that's already been done. Or it might have been called, What are the Chances? Serendipty isn't quite what's going on in this slight but diverting romantic comedy, directed by Peter Chelsom. It just so happens, as it were, that Jonathan and Sara (John Cusack and London-born Kate Beckinsale, respectively), after they meet by chance, really do end up looking for each other -- ten years later. It was Sara's idea to leave things to chance one Christmas when they meet while tussling over the same pair of gloves in a department store. She writes her name and number in a book and gives it to a used book store; he writes his digits on a five-dollar bill. If they were meant to be together, they'll find these again, and each other, by chance.

It's refreshing to see the old debate between determinism and free will dusted off for an airing in a popular movie. The logical weaknesses in the script are more than made up for by the charisma of the leads: Beckinsale is talented and easy on the eyes; Cusack just can't be a bad guy, even when he tries -- he was a hit man in Grosse Point Blank, for instance -- as there is just something compellingly, even irretrievably, nice about the guy. So what if the coincidences they endure are not only unbelievable but downright silly?

So... free will or determinism? Sara starts out a determinist, believing the future is a chartered boat ride and you just have to go with the flow if you want to stay aboard. Jonathan, however, Second Look Reviewinsists that he take the tiller of fate into his hands. They both make good turns and bad mistakes, of course. They wind up engaged to the wrong mates, of course. And their best friends (Bridget Moynahan for Sara and Jeremy Piven for Jonathan) help them out of their predicaments, of course. So does God or Nature or Fate play such tricks on us? I doubt it: as much as I'm skeptical of free will -- there are no unmotivated choices; your motivation is a deterministic driving force -- it is a little simple-minded to go so far as to assume there's intelligence behind coincidence. Statistically, coincidences have to happen. But, human beings are natural-born pattern-seekers, so we tend to read a lot more into coincidence that we can rationally justify.

No matter. Serendipity is as far from heavy philosophical fare as a film can be. I liked it. There was an especially hilarious bit part featuring Eugene Levy (American Pie, APII) as an acerbic men's store salesman. But with its romantic, attractive stars, and amusing dilemma, Serendipity makes the perfect (inoffensive) date flick. In that sense, it was for me, in the true sense of the word, serendipity.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me!

Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.