- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Can we take refuge in a sentimental romance? Serendipityis the latest romantic comedy from director Peter Chelsom, who gave us the widely panned Town & Country earlier this year.The movie stars John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale as lovers directed together by fate, but not until they've confronted a variety of seemingly impossible obstacles.
Serendipity, says the USCC, is a "leaden romantic comedy. Poorly directed by Peter Chelsom, the contrived plot is stretched beyond its feeble limits to produce a lethargic film accompanied by mostly flat performances."
The Phantom Tollbooth's J. Robert Parks offers a list of complaints: "Though the film is billed as a romantic comedy, it is neither romantic nor a comedy. … The two characters are so utterly wrong for each other, only a marriage counselor in need of work would hope they'd end up together. … I only laughed twice and one of those was in disgust."
Michael Elliott calls it "a movie where the laughs may not be deep or sustained, but they are consistent." Addressing the film's theme of lives being guided by fate, Elliott muses, "The problem with depending upon 'signs' to determine a course of action is that we then make ourselves a prime target for deception. Signs can be feigned and lead us to places we'd rather not visit."
Douglas Downs notes moments of insight: "Sara at her greatest moment of desperation cries out to God and Jonathan at his lowest point of discouragement is reminded, 'When God closes a door, He opens a window.'" He recommends it to grownups as "a nice, fairly clean, romantic comedy."
Movieguide's critic disagrees: "Although there are a couple important references to God, Serendipity places the idea of Fate and Destiny squarely in a pagan context. This movie isn't a classic, but many people may be attracted to this kind of story, especially in these tragic times in which we live."
But Holly McClure (The Dove Foundation) doesn't think the 'fate' element should be taken too seriously. "This is a cleverly written, modern day love story using funny scenarios, interesting characters and a storyline that relies on the premise of fate to create fairy tale romance magic. There is no faith or heavenly intercession in this story; instead it strictly relies on quirky serendipitous situations to create the happy ending."
Preview's Mary Draughon finds it a mixed bag: "Serendipity disappoints in many respects. Hollywood continues to present role models who acknowledge the need for someone to love, but can't commit to marriage. On the plus side, Jonathan and Sara each have loyal friends willing to go to extremes, to help them find their lost loves. Serendipity may not be so much a fortunate accident, as it is a lighthearted romantic comedy that strays into objectionable territory."
Focus on the Family's Lindy Beam says, "If Serendipity would just substitute 'God' for the generic and not-quite-satisfying 'Fate,' many of its assertions would be true. Actually, they'd become even more encouraging and substantial."
The Film Forum's Steve Lansingh manages to draw something meaningful from the movie, but he admits it requires looking at the supporting characters played by Molly Shannon and Jeremy Piven, rather than the central "fated" lovers. "The movie tells us [Jon and Sara] are right for each other, but we have no evidence of it," he writes. "A destiny that asks us to step on others and act selfishly is hardly a clarion call. Given the skeptic role, Shannon has some intriguing things to say in defense of taking action rather than waiting for destiny. There's a difference, to be sure, between loosening your grip on your life and pretending you have no influence on it. And Piven's character … is inspired by the spark he sees in Cusack. He's not inspired to pursue his own mystery woman, like his buddy, but rather to pursue his wife with such zeal. While most of the film preaches that the right partner makes love work, this one corner of the story says you have to want it, have to nurture it, have to pay it attention."
Ebert gets frustrated as the screenplay "bounces them through so many amazing coincidences and serendipitous parallels and cosmic concordances that Fate is not merely knocking on the door, it has entered with a SWAT team and is banging their heads together and administering poppers."