‘…lightweight to a fault…’

A big hit back in 2001, Serendipity goes for the jugular when it comes to tackling the mojo behind most rom-coms; it’s explicitly about the action of fate in bringing a couple together. Sure, we usually get a grip in the first ten minutes as to who deserves to be with who, particularly when the leads are as strong and likable as Kate Beckinsdale and John Cusack. Peter Chelsom’s film isn’t so sure-footed when it comes to putting obstacles in their path, but it’s a lively work-out to figure out what Marc Klein’s script is taking us.

It’s Xmas in NYC, and Jonathan (Cusack) runs into Sara (Beckinsale) while shopping in a department store; they’re both after the same pair of gloves. This meeting cute makes it clear to us that the couple are fated to be together, but they both have other relationships, and break apart without the key information required to find each other. Jonathan is getting married, but rather than prepare for his wedding, sends himself on a wild goose chase to find out what happened to the girl who got away…

This is a Hollywood rom-com, so improbabilities are everywhere. Sara writes her details in a copy of Love In A Time of Cholera, and Jonathan has to search every second-hand bookstore on the West Coast in an effort to track her down. The notion is that he’ll only get his reward once his quest forces him to endure many indignities, and eventually the course of true love runs smoothly for Sara and Jonathan. But they put most of the obstacles in place themselves, for no reason other than to provide a list of contrivances for them to overcome, so the film’s mechanics are laid bare.

Serendipity’s problem is that it’s all subtext and no text; resolving the missed connection is a matter of Jonathan getting various ducks in a row, but the arch plot points work against the theme of fate’s interaction with troubled souls. Cusack and Beckinsale are watchable performers, and even if Serendipity’s story is lightweight to a fault, it’s a model of low-investment, low-yield film-making, all dressed up but with nowhere to go but an obvious, rather pat denouement.


Leave a Reply
  1. Rom com is probably the most difficult genre to make work given that obstacle is the driving force of the plot and it’s hard to find an issue that satisfies logic.

  2. Brilliant! …all sub-text, no text…all dressed up, no where to go! Cliche that it is…you nailed it once again. If only they’d woven in the real (peculiar) magic of serendipity, coincidence, and willpower. In the states it was called ‘chick flick bait.’

    • It is ‘chick flick bait, it looks like a quality chick flick, and in a way it is, by dint of high-minded ideas. But there’s more to love and romance than just reading the tea-leaves, since interpretation is a key element. Still, there’s a great film to be made on this subject….

  3. I’ve never seen it, but this is the favorite movie of youngest brother’s wife. She tries to get us to watch it every Christmas. I’m willing to give it a try, but the timing never seems right. I guess I’m waiting for a moment for things to come together just right. What’s that called? Don’t tell me . . . It’s on the tip of my tongue. It’s not luck, it’s not coincidence or synchronicity. What’s that word? 🙃🥴😂

    • Coincidence? fate? or ….Serendipity! Be cautious, The Holiday has a similar place in my life, and I finally gave in and watched it….it’s truly awful! Best to give the DVD of Serendipity to charity, and then search charity shops to find it again; if it turns up, things were meant to be!

      • Haha. I feel obligated to watch it, because my sister-in-law loves it so much. On the other hand, most of my friends and family who have seen it (including my wife) told me it’s a terrible movie.

        • With that cast and a good subject, it should have been an all-time great rom-com. Feel free to come back with your thoughts if you survive it.

  4. Hmmm…..I remember this one quite fondly but will admit I haven’t seen it since 2001. I love a good rom com as you know. I might have to rewatch to see if I must argue its merits to you!

    • You’re not alone! I love the idea of this, the leads are fine, but there’s something underwhelming for me about this…

  5. While I do enjoy the occasional fluffy romcom, I am not a fan of the trope of one of the pair being engaged or about to get married and breaking it off. It really rubs me the wrong way and gets my back up.

  6. Can’t abide rom-coms so haven’t seen and won’t see it. Presume Beckinsale wasn’t as big a star back then so at least a showcase for her talents to procure better movies?

Leave a Reply