Sweet November Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001

Sweet November artwork

The Hollywood career of Charlize Theron reads like a fairy-tale. Born on a farm in South Africa, her childhood was marred by the fatal shooting of her father by her mother (apparently in self-defense). The only child of a broken household, the future actress pursued an interest in the arts, first with a formal education in ballet, which led to a modeling career in Milan at the age of 16. Theron quickly tired of modeling, and returned to studying ballet in New York, though that aspiration was cut short by a permanent knee injury. Without money or a job, she headed to Los Angeles in the hopes of pursuing her long-time dream of acting, which was where her luck changed for the better.

Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron

Her 'big break' actually arose from a heated argument with a bank teller, who refused to cash a check for the would-be actress. Fortunately, her 'tantrum' caught the attention of talent manager John Crosby (who also discovered Rene Russo), who happened to be standing in line behind her. With the help of Crosby, she landed her first role in 1996's "2 Days in the Valley", and thus began her meteoric rise into the pantheon of Hollywood starlets, with memorable turns in "That Thing You Do!", "Mighty Joe Young", "The Cider House Rules", and more recently, "The Legend of Bagger Vance".

About a year ago, this promising young actress publicly turned down the female lead for the 2001 tent-pole production "Pearl Harbor", citing her preference to do a smaller film called "Sweet November", which was going into production at the same time as the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. Now that film has finally hit theaters, and unfortunately for the rising young actress, "Sweet November" leaves a terrible aftertaste-- I'm not sure what I found more annoying, the forced romance in the story, or the blatant Match.com product placements.

Based on the 1968 film of the same name, "Sweet November" is the story of a quirky and free-spirited San Franciscan named Sara Deever (Theron) who invites a different man to live with her every month in order to 'help' them-- 'long enough to be meaningful, but short enough to stay out of trouble'. Her latest challenge, Mr. November, is an egotistical, work-obsessed, and time-starved ad man named Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves, seen recently in "The Gift"), who needs to be put in touch with his 'softer side'. If you saw last year's "The Family Man", nothing that happens in "Sweet November" should be a surprise. Nelson is at first unwilling to buy into Sara's new age 'voodoo', but over time, he learns to appreciate the simple and liberated life she leads, and eventually falls in love with her. Unfortunately, Nelson also uncovers a deep, dark secret underneath Sara's plucky and buoyant demeanor, and learns that his 'savior' is in need of some help herself.

Reeves and Theron

Like the 1968 predecessor, the story of "Sweet November" is terribly contrived as it implausibly brings its two romantic leads together and then tries to ante the emotional quotient with a cliché plot twist straight out of "Autumn in New York". Like "The Wedding Planner", nothing that happens on the screen is believable, as the screenwriters had to dumb-down the characters, mix up their motivations, and twist the circumstances in order for the story to work. This 'artificial sweetness' is further exacerbated by the lack of chemistry between the two leads, as well as the limited dramatic range of Reeves, whose stilted and insincere line recitals border on the abrasive. And to add final insult to injury, after wasting the audience's time in an effort to sympathize with its synthetic personalities, the film comes to an abrupt and emotionally comatose ending.

Unfortunately, "Sweet November" is hardly the 'challenging' or 'memorable' film that Charlize Theron was hoping it would be. With its contrived plotting, lack of chemistry between Theron and her wooden-emoting co-star, and an emotionally-muted ending, "Sweet November" does little to remedy the February blahs. Though the caliber of "Pearl Harbor" remains to be seen, it's a shame that a promising actress such as Charlize Theron chose the lackluster over the blockbuster, thereby joining the ranks of other actors who passed on potential star opportunities, such as Tom Selleck (who turned down the role of Indiana Jones), Winona Ryder (who turned down the Viola role in "Shakespeare in Love"), and Gwyneth Paltrow (who turned down the Rose role in "Titanic").

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

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