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Sweet November

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Sweet November

Starring: Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves
Director: Pat O'Connor
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: February 2001
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Greg Germann, Lauren Graham, Jason Isaacs, Frank Langella, Liam Aiken

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Mind if I borrow from my own recent review of "The Family Man"? We begin with the old question: does money buy happiness? Or to put this another way, can you be pleased most of the time if you made a decent, honest living, had a loving wife that made you the envy of your neighbors, and two adorable kids...and if so, what are the chances you'd be happier as this family man than as an arbitrage expert living in a posh Manhattan pad with no wife and no children?

Brett Ratner's "The Family Man" meets Arthur Hiller's "Love Story" as Pat O'Connor ("Circle of Friends," "Inventing the Abbots") recycles a movie which in 1968 immersed itself in a theme that had not yet been done to death in disease-of-the-week TV shows but which today lacks even a smidgen of originality or risk. Herman Raucher's screenplay had taken us to Brooklyn and Greenwich Village to eavesdrop on a pair of lovers (Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley) enjoying the most delirious month of their lives. Newley performed in the role not unlike that of Brett Ratner's family man, though an ad exec in the highly-paid creative department rather than a mergers-and-acquisitions guy with Wall Street while Sandy Dennis--who might always be counted on to play a good-time gal who could at the drop of a hat go pale and sickly enjoyed some unconventional relationships with a few select men. While Newley's place has been taken this time by Keanu Reeves (whom my esteemed colleague Susan Granger describes as having the personality of a golf club), Charlize Theron is a more pleasant sight than Ms. Ennis though perhaps not as interesting a performer as she.

While the 1968 film gave the appearance of a theater piece, a "movieish" comedy-drama, the current offering, sharply photographed by Ed Lachman in San Francisco's Victorian-looking Potrero district and in its glass-and- concrete business area, has opened up the proceedings though not enough to transport "Sweet November" from its more appropriate place as a TV proposition. The side roles are alarmingly cartoonish, particularly that of the doorman of Mr. Reeves's character, Nelson Moss, the executive played by Frank Langella is unbelievably ill-mannered, and one particular scene involving an ad man named Chazz (Jason Isaacs), a next-door neighbor to Sara Deever (Charlize Theron), is embarrassing, contrived, and wholly unnecessary.

The story centers on an attractive woman in her late twenties (Charlize Theron as Sara Deever) who, for reasons of her own, selects a man-of-the-month for whom she will be available. She picks people she believes she can help. When she and Nelson Moss meet cute while taking a test at the Department of Motor Vehicles, she finds out where he lives and stalks him until he agrees to live with her--first for a day and then for the month of November. Neither expects much to come of the relationship, but of course they fall in love. In this case, however, love and marriage do not go together like a horse and carriage.

Some points challenge credibility. Would a woman whose idea of a Thanksgiving dinner is a vegan turkey stuffed with tofu be carrying a salami? Would she be carrying a salami together with a couple of bagfulls of food to the Motor Vehicles department where she is about to take a test? Of course she would. Had the salami not fallen out of her hand, picked up by handsome but workaholic Nelson Moss, the two might never have met. But would Nelson allow Sara to take the blame for cribbing, having her test ripped up by the arrogant proctor, even though he was wholly responsible for her indictment as a cheater?

The one thing that makes perfect sense, though, is the presence of cute little 10-year-old Abner (Liam Aiken), an adorable fatherless child who asks Nelson to adopt him. Where would a movie like this be without such a Dickensian kid? Keanu Reeves did make an impact as an actor in his performance as the villain in "The Gift," but he's back to being a stick, allowing the sinfully gorgeous Charlize Theron to carry the action. If you need a reason to see this fare, let Charlize be your excuse.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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