For her second re-view, Rachel Jones-Pittier breaks out her 13-inch TV/VCR combo again and rewatches this John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale rom-com vehicle that, with just a little bit of tweaking, could easily have been a horror movie.
Funny story about me and Serendipity… when the movie first came out ten years ago, my best friend Caitie really, really wanted to go see it. I told Caitie we could go on opening day for her birthday, which is October 5. But that was a cover for a totally awesome surprise party; so when Caitie came to pick me up for our movie date, she instead got all of our friends jumping out and yelling, “Happy birthday!” After the shock wore off and the celebration was underway, Caitie turned to me and said, “We can still see Serendipity, right?”
Well, we eventually did go see the movie, and later I bought it on VHS. (Yes, this is another re-view made possible by my 13-inch TV/VCR combo from the early 2000s.) Part of the reason I originally used the movie as a cover for the party is because I thought it looked dumb. After seeing it in theaters, I conceded that while it might not be intelligent, it was a rom-com that fit right into my teenage girl construct of what a movie should be — nay, what my LIFE should be.
I consider myself to be a pragmatic person, but nevertheless loved — and still have a soft spot for — the theme of this movie. Obviously chalking things up to “fate” is a very simplified and romanticized way to view the world; I think the choices that we make do matter, but I also truly don’t know how some things are explained other than “destiny” (led by God, the universe, flying spaghetti monster, whoever may guide your path).
For example, when I trace back every exact thing that had to happen in order for my husband and I to meet — going to a specific school, being involved in certain activities, meeting the right friends, both of us moving to L.A. — that can’t be dismissed simply as “coincidence.” So I guess my life has come full circle if I’ve achieved “Serendipatiousness,” as John Cusack’s character calls it.
As Serendipity shows, there are some holes in the destiny theory, or at least in the way that people use it. Relying on fate means one must be willing to look like a crazy person.
Essentially, Sara (Kate Beckinsale) and Jonathan (John Cusack) find and lose each other in a whirlwind night in New York, then spend the next several years looking to find each other again, despite each being in committed relationships.
The two meet while reaching for the last pair of cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale’s during Christmastime. Sara takes Jonathan to Serendipity 3 for… what are those things, mochas? Ice cream sundaes? Milkshakes? Anyway, they look amazing, and still today I want to try one. Never have made it to Serendipity in my handful of NYC visits.
Sara and Jonathan discuss the idea of Serendipity — fate, destiny, fortunate accidents. She believes that there is some divine hand in our lives, while he seems skeptical. They each also mention that they’re currently in a relationship. An obvious viewer question is, “Why would you go on a choco-date with a total stranger if you’re in a relationship?” Keeping options open I guess.
After milkshakes Jonathan asks for Sara’s phone number but she says, “If we’re meant to meet again, we’ll meet again.” They say their goodbyes, but both end up returning to the restaurant to pick up forgotten items — Jonathan his scarf and Sarah her new Gloves of Destiny ™. Now that it’s “meant to be,” they go skating.
Jonathan’s blunt honesty about his feelings for Sara could be a turnoff to some (particularly since they’re both “taken”) but I still find Cusack’s earnest delivery incredibly sexy. He doesn’t leer, he gapes. When he says, “I’m getting a crush on someone else’s girlfriend,” it isn’t creepy, it’s endearing. (That said, I obviously wouldn’t feel comfortable being in either of their shoes in real life.) Sara is the opposite, elusive and mysterious, but never spurns his advances. Despite Sara not even telling him her name, they delve into each other’s lives with the interest and newness of a first date, and the witty rapport of old friends.
Re-watching the film, I’m annoyed by Sara looking for a sign that they’re “meant” to be together instead of just saying, “I like this guy and want spend more time with him.” I guess that kind of makes sense if she’s going to break up two relationships in order to date Jonathan, but it’s all pretty silly. You can’t just wait for fate to marry you off and make no decisions of your own.
At the end of the night, Sara makes Jonathan perform in a sort of Destiny Decathlon to prove that they should be together. Jonathan writes his number on a $5 bill and then gives it to a cashier. Sara buys Love in the Time of Cholera and writes her name and number inside, saying she’ll sell it to a used bookstore the next morning. If these items come back into their lives, it’s meant to be.
Sara even drags Jonathan to the Waldorf Astoria and says if they both pick the same floor from separate elevators, they’re meant to be. They do both pick floor 23, but a literal devil child gets into the elevator with Jonathan and pushes every button. After many stops, he makes it to the 23rd floor, but Sara is gone.
She’s clearly disappointed and wanted to see him get off the elevator, which makes me want to shake her and say, “Stop putting up these obstacles for yourself!” But if Sara had just handed him her number, would he have cheated on his girlfriend to be with her? Would the relationship have been based on a lie, or not have lasted?
The film moves forward “a few years later” and we see Jonathan and Sara living separate, seemingly happy lives, still mildly obsessed with one another. I wonder if it would be possible to stay “hidden” from one another for so long today as Jonathan and Sara did in the movie. With just a first name it’s pretty tough, but surely Facebook would be able to help a little bit. The internet can find anything!* (*Except for Dick Cheney’s house on Google Maps, or the location of several wanted terrorists.)
Jonathan is celebrating the approach of his wedding to Halley (Bridget Moynahan) along with best friend/ best man Dean, Jeremy Piven. He still checks used bookstores for Love in the Time of Cholerato find Sara’s number.
We see Sara in San Francisco, where she’s a therapist, counseling a young man against relying on “fate” or “destiny,” since it takes away any responsibility that we have over our own lives. Back at home (at her adorable lakeside cottage), Sara’s new-agey boyfriend Lars (John Corbett) proposes. But her engagement ring doesn’t fit, and Lars’ touring schedule interferes with their wedding plans. By the way, the Lars character is one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen — a world-famous hippie oboe player, complete with an international tour, music videos and merch. Sara still checks the back of $5 bills for Jonathan’s number.
Jonathan keeps seeing “signs” of Sara around New York and goes to Dean for guidance. Dean asks, “Why would you risk your relationship with Halley just to search for some pipe dream?” but nevertheless helps Jonathan scour the city for her. The search brings them back to Bloomingdales, where they enlist the help Eugene Levy, a sales clerk who takes his job extremely seriously. They use Sara’s old Bloomingdale’s account number on the receipt to search through a warehouse of credit card applications, eventually acquiring her old mailing address.
Meanwhile Sara plans a trip to New York with Eve, saying it’s for Eve’s birthday. Eve is none to happy when she realizes she’s been roped into searching for an old flame. Sara explains to Eve that while it may look like she just brought her to New York to find a mystery man and blow off her engagement to Kenny G, she’s really looking for closure and to put an end to her obsession. “Let’s just pray he’s a bald fascist who picks his nose and wipes it under the carseat,” she says.
Sara and Eve have several near misses with Jonathan and Dean as they search for each other throughout the city. Sara and Eve go back to Serendipity for a treat, where Sara concedes she must give up the search, and Eve picks up a $5 with Jonathan’s phone number. They just miss Jonathan and Dean walking by the restaurant, where Dean implores Jonathan to keep looking for Sara and put an end to his obsession. In a change of heart, Jonathan says he is meant to get married to Halley and needs to give up the search for Sara.
Then coincidentally, Eve runs into an old friend at the Waldorf Astoria — Jonathan’s fiancée Halley, on her way to the wedding rehearsal. Small world, eh? Halley invites Eve to the wedding and says to “bring her friend.” Will they finally come face to face?!
After the wedding rehearsal, Halley gives Jonathan a groom’s gift —Love in the Time of Cholera, which she always sees him looking in. Sara’s full name and number are inside this copy, allowing he and Dean to find Sara’s current address and — being crazy movie people — buy red-eye tickets to go see her in San Francisco.
This is where the idea of “destiny” intersects with the universal phenomenon known as “stupidity.” Is it Jonathan’s “destiny” to fly across the country on the eve of his wedding, essentially cheating on his fiancée? Is it fate for him to call of a wedding, breaking Halley’s heart (and wasting thousands of dollars, based on the Waldorf Astoria location)?
Once at Sara’s house, the pair are scared away when they see a couple — Sara’ sister and boyfriend — doing it inside, and assume it’s Jonathan’s long-lost love (worst house-sitters ever). Back in New York, Sara is preparing to fly back home after apparently breaking up with Lars. She pulls out her wallet, which was switched with Eve’s, and finds the scribbled-on $5 bill. She calls Information for his address (remember 411?), drops by and is told by neighbors that it’s Jonathan’s wedding day.
Even though they’ve been searching for one another for years, who just stops by the house of a practical stranger? You have each other’s phone numbers, try calling first.
Sara bursts into the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, only to find the wedding never happened. Later that night, she goes to Central Park in search of her lost jacket. She finds Jonathan laying on it on the skating rink, the site of their first non-date, and they finally kiss. The movie ends with them celebrating an anniversary in the Bloomingdales glove department.
Obviously the implication is that they get together and live happily ever after. I kind of wonder if, after building up the lovey-dovey, destiny feelings for ten years, they can’t stand being in an actual relationship. But no one has asked me to write a sequel yet.