Friday February 16, 2001
"Sweet November" teams Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron in a glossy, all-stops-out love story that you can't imagine captivating anyone beyond teenage girls and die-hard romantics--which admittedly could add up to lots of people. But for the rest of us, it's tough sledding.
This elaborate reworking of the 1968 film of the same name that starred Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley isn't convincing, and for all their charm and chemistry, Reeves and Theron seem always to be acting rather than becoming the people they are portraying.
Reeves' Nelson is a totally self-absorbed workaholic San Francisco advertising executive--demanding, scathingly insensitive and sensationally successful. Only the imminent loss of his driver's license spins him out of his orbit long enough to head for the DMV to take a driver's test. Caught up short by the test, he dares to ask a klutzy blond, Sara (Theron), sitting near him, for the answer to one of the questions. He doesn't realize it for a while, but that attempt at cheating, which gets both of them thrown out, has just changed the course of his life.
Sara is a free spirit, insisting to Nelson that he's a miserable man but promising that if he turns his life over to her for just one month, she will transform it miraculously for the better. Writer Kurt Voelker, working from a story he wrote with Paul Yurick and based on Herman Raucher's script for the original film, is perfunctory in his attempt to persuade us that Nelson is really unhappy at heart or that he of all people would submit, just a few plot twists later, so easily to the kooky control freak Sara seems to be.
What she has in mind seems simple enough, however. Nelson is to move in with her and learn how to enjoy life without a care in the world. Any romance, should it blossom, is fine, but Nelson must accept that they will be together only one month, a period of time, Sara explains, that is "long enough to be meaningful and short enough to stay out of trouble." You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to suspect that Sara has a secret or what that secret is.
Just as "The Wedding Planner," (also set in San Francisco) tried to revive screwball comedy of the '30s and '40s, "Sweet November" goes for the big, sweeping love story of yore with director Pat O'Connor heart-tugging all the way. Yet the filmmakers seem oblivious to the need to anchor their tale in some semblance of reality.
For openers, just how does Sara support herself? (For a while we wonder if she is some sort of New Age sex therapist.) Does she own the hilltop Victorian, in which she lives on the upper floor, and rent out the lower? An animal lover, she refers vaguely to some business that sounds like a pet shop and says she gave it up because it became too big. Indeed, if Nelson buys into Sara's live-life-to-the-fullest philosophy, how is he ever going to have time to hold onto a job? Sara's cozy abode, decorated with things she might have picked up at flea markets and garage sales, has got to be pricey in today's San Francisco real estate market. In short, "Sweet November" doesn't seem to be taking place in the real world.
We can be grateful that Reeves and Theron are such attractive and appealing actors because we can at least believe Nelson and Sara could fall in love, even if we can't go along with much else. There's tart key support from Jason Isaacs as Sara's neighbor, who just happens to be Nelson's key business rival but who has not let work overshadow his private life; and from Greg Germann as Nelson's office sidekick, who has all of the "old" Nelson's worst traits and none of his developing virtues. Frank Langella plays a tycoon who confirms our worst suspicions about the breed, and Liam Aiken is the vulnerable, fatherless little boy across the street who brings out Nelson's paternal instincts.
"Sweet November" looks good, with expressive production design from Naomi Shohan and splendid camera work by Edward Lachman; Christopher Young's score is suitably romantic. Still, this is a film that means to be seductive but merely progresses from the contrived to the manipulative.
Sweet November, 2001. PG-13, for sexual content and language. A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation in association with Bel-Air Entertainment of a 3 Arts Entertainment production. Director Pat O'Connor. Producers Erwin Stoff and Deborah Aal, Steven Reuther, Elliott Kastner. Executive producer Wendy Wanderman. Screenplay Kurt Voelker; from a story by Paul Yurick and Voelker. Cinematographer Edward Lachman. Editor Anne V. Coates. Music Christopher Young. Costumes Shay Cunliffe. Production designer Naomi Shohan. Art director Kevin Constant. Set decorator Robert Kensinger. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Keanu Reeves as Nelson. Charlize Theron as Sara. Jason Isaacs as Chaz. Greg Germann as Vince.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times