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"SWEET NOVEMBER"
(2001) (Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Drama: After being fired and then dumped by his girlfriend, a busy and self-centered man finds that there's more to life when he moves in for a month with an odd, but sweet woman who promises to show him the right way to live.
PLOT:
Nelson Moss (KEANU REEVES) is a busy and self-centered, but successful advertising executive who, like his business associate, Vince (GREG GERMANN), doesn't have time for anyone else, let alone his girlfriend beyond a few moments of sex. When he has to take time out of his hectic schedule to renew his drivers license at the DMV, he runs into Sara Deever (CHARLIZE THERON) and then ends up being responsible for her losing her permit to drive for a month.

Although he offers to pay her for her troubles, Sara decides to leech onto Nelson, much to his dismay. Threatening to make repeated public scenes if he doesn't humor her, Sara gets Nelson to drive her around town and then return to her apartment where she offers to help him improve his life. The only condition is that he must move in with her for the entire month of November and do everything she says.

He thinks she's crazy and leaves, but when he's suddenly fired from his job and dumped by his girlfriend, he decides to return and the two end up in bed together. When he then meets Chaz (JASON ISAACS), a close friend of hers, and Abner (LIAM AIKEN), a young, fatherless neighbor boy, and both wonder if he's this month's "flavor," Nelson realizes it's time for him to leave.

Sara eventually convinces him, however, that he has nothing to go home to and that she has her reasons for her apparent promiscuousness, and so Nelson stays with her. As they spend more time together and Nelson soon begins to loosen up and fall for her and her laidback and seemingly carefree ways, he must choose between his old and new lifestyle all while dealing with an unexpected revelation that challenges his convictions.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Back when futurist Alvin Toffler wrote "Future Shock" and "The Third Wave" and Disney's "imagineers" were envisioning and constructing their Tomorrowland project, they imagined a future where both predictable and, at the time, unforeseen technologies would not only make our lives easier, but would also afford us a great deal more free time. The thought was that all of the menial and manual tasks of everyday life at home and work would be replaced by automation, thus eliminating such time consuming affairs and needs.

Of course, while the fax machine, remote control, cell phone and the Internet mean we can do things faster than in the past, for some reason the accompanying leisure time never materialized. People are now asked or required to do more than ever before and two-household incomes and fifty or more hour workweeks are now the norm, rather than the exception.

As a result, many people work too hard and don't spend enough time "unplugged" and enjoying what family, friends and life have to offer. After all, we only go around once and as the old song goes, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think."

That's the gist of "Sweet November," a moderately entertaining but rather contrived and predictable romantic drama that clearly falls into the "chick flick" categorization. Perhaps it's because I fall in with the XY chromosomal bunch, but these sorts of touchy-feely films have never really done much for me, what with all of the lovey-dovey material that often turns sappy and/or melodramatic before the end credits roll.

Although the film is based on the 1968 "dramedy" of the same name that starred Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley in the two lead roles, and is thematically similar to the second chance, Christmas Carol plot that's fueled many films including "The Family Man," it's pretty much jettisoned most of its comedic elements in favor of something more akin to what you'd see on the Lifetime cable TV lineup. If there's any doubt about that, one only need consider the film's title.

When a movie title has the name or synonym of an autumnal or winter month in it, there's usually little doubt about what will ultimately transpire sometime before the end credits roll, and this film doesn't break that mold. For those who don't figure out the film's "big secret" just a short while into it (if the trailers haven't already given it away), I won't divulge the particulars, but for anyone who's seen any sort of picture like this, it won't come as much of a surprise.

Of course, maybe I've missed the point - since I'm a guy - that there are those who enjoy these types of films because they generally know what's going to occur, much like fans of the horror genre love films that make no excuses for offering the expected cheap thrills and red herrings. Unfortunately, this effort doesn't offer any of the latter as there's little doubt about where any of it's headed at any moment.

That said, I will have to admit that for a short while I eventually - but only momentarily and against all better judgment and common sense - partially fell under the film's spell, much like Nelson can't believe he does in regards to Sara's scheme. Of course, that didn't last long, not only due to the genre, but also because the basic plot and its ensuing developments are somewhat, and occasionally quite farfetched. As such, some heaping spoonfuls of suspenseful of disbelief are necessary to make it easier to swallow what's presented here.

Although director Pat O'Connor ("Dancing at Lughnasa," "Inventing the Abbotts") and screenwriter Kurt Voelker and storywriter Paul Yurick (both making their feature film debuts), have updated and partially altered Herman Raucher's original screenplay, the basic story feels like an antiquated relic from Hollywood's past.

I can only imagine that the underlying concept and resultant execution would work better as a comedy in that it would be far easier to buy into the monthly "boyfriend club" and all of its related elements. While Sara's monthly rotation is eventually explained, it still feels far-fetched and initially makes her come off as somewhat of an eccentric hussy. If everything were played as a comedy, all of that wouldn't be so hard to accept.

The same holds true for Nelson too easily succumbing to Sarah's spell (with the help of some contrived moments that blow him into her web). Although he exhibits the requisite resistance, his acceptance of her plan and lifestyle - while pivotal for the story and what will transpire within it - feels too contrived. The same holds true for the eventual, but predictable "shocking" revelation and related, subsequent events that give the film a more sober tone.

Then there's the whole matter of the performers, their performances and the chemistry factor between them. Charlize Theron ("The Legend of Baggar Vance," "The Cider House Rules") is generally okay in her role, but can't overcome the radical change in her character that, while explained, simply feels too manufactured in an effort to drive up tissue sales.

More attention and criticism will likely be aimed at Keanu Reeves ("The Gift," "The Replacements") as her counterpart. Critics and average moviegoers' views of him as a thespian range all across the spectrum, and while he's generally better in action flicks such as "Speed" and "The Matrix," he has been known to deliver decent performances in films such as "A Walk in the Clouds." Here, some of his mannerisms and vocal delivery seem to clash with the material, and while he probably wouldn't have been my first choice for the part, he's okay in it.

The chemistry between the two - the ever so crucial element for a film like this to succeed in tugging on the heartstrings and getting the nasal passages running - is neither horrible nor electrically charged, although viewer reactions to it are certain to vary.

As far as the supporting performances are concerned, they're all generally okay, but the work from the likes of Jason Isaacs ("The Patriot," "Armageddon"), Greg Germann ("Down to Earth," TV's "Ally McBeal") and Liam Aiken ("I Dreamed of Africa," "Stepmom") can't overcome the fact that their characters are obviously present as reminders and teaching lessons for Nelson's "education" about how one needs to pull off from life in the fast lane and stop and smell the roses, etc.

Not as horrible as many will probably state but certainly not as romantic and touching as it might have been if not for the far too obviously manipulative, contrived and predictable moments found throughout it, this film may play well to some easily emotionally affected viewers, but will probably be too corny and implausible for others. "Sweet November" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 30, 2001 / Posted February 16, 2001


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