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IN SHORT: Love means having to say you're sorry you schlepped to this thing. [Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. 120 minutes]
Once upon a lost to the mists of time, there was a movie that was do incredibly dreadful that those of us of the male gender cringed when our girlfriends insisted on seeing it again and again and again. That's why Love Story made a gazillion dollars and it's why Hollywood tries to find that lost formula for success. They missed again with Sweet November, a story whose setup is so unbelievable and whose stars have so little chemistry together that we feared another Love Story. That is, until we started to listen to the femme contingent in the sneak we attended.
It isn't a good thing when the most positive comments are about a puppy dog named Ernie, stolen from a medical research lab by the kooky, whacky, boisterous beyond belief Sara Deever (Charlize Theron). At the wheel of the getaway vehicle is Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves), who owes Sara a favor for getting her kicked out of a DMV license exam. Nelson is a high powered advertising agency creative type who is partnered with a low talent, butt-kissing hack, Vince (Greg Germann). Both seem to feel that business relationships are more important than personal ones. Sara sets out to teach Nelson the difference, offering him a solid month of having a woman totally devoted to him, emotionally and sexually and in whatever other ways may be needed. At the end of that month, though, the parting will be mandatory.
At the end of that month Nelson, who hasn't shown a shred of a spark of chemistry with Sara, decides that he cannot live without her. At that time, he uncovers her deepest, dark secret . . . which we've tipped.
The only way this story can work is if a) we believe the circumstances by which the pair comes together; b) we believe the depth of the relationship that forms and c) we believe that the decisions made at the end of the film can rest soundly on everything established in the first two Acts. Sweet November fails on every count. Step one fails because, although the script plants logical reasons for the pair to come together -- Nelson is willing to give the loony Sara one night, 'cuz she's gorgeous and willing -- we can't for the life of us explain the reasons why he stays with her for more than a night. It gets worse.
Vince exists in the story solely to try to break the couple up -- Career Before Emotional Commitment, A Bad Thing" would be the title if this were a term paper -- and Sara has a neighbor (Jason Isaacs) who adds a little sexual color and explains all the medical stuff that the fatherless kidlet across the street (Liam Aiken) can't.
Which is why we pay more attention to the demographic target for the film and, as we said above, all the ladies thought that the dog in the story was the cutest thing about it.
Reeves and Theron have worked together before, though The Devil's Advocate didn't require the kind of emotional interplay that Sweet November does. This time out their characters have even less chemistry. Speaking strictly from a male POV, if someone as fine as Charlize Theron offered total devotion for thirty days, we'd take it. Could we fall helplessly in love by the end of those days? It's possible. In the universe of this particular film, is there anything on the big screen to make us believe that Nelson has fallen for Sara, excepting his say so? Nope.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Sweet November, he would have paid...
We're still willing to give Reeves enough benefit of the doubt as to his acting chops to point our fingers at the screenplay and directing. We know Theron's got the chops from other work but she doesn't stretch them here. Sweet November moves from kooky to sweet to cute and emotional to medical disaster with the speed of a runaway train. Part of that is due to a mandated edit to avoid an "R" rating. Pay close attention to the conversations on screen and you can probably catch the fact that Nelson isn't the first to get the thirty day treatment. We're guessing that he is the last in a very long line, and that is the reason for the initial rating.
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