A good romance draws tears, but in the case of Sweet November (Warner Bros.), the dominant emotion the audience feels is nausea. The overwrought sentimentality of cute, cuddly animals and fatherless children combine with a by-the-numbers style that contributes to its ultimate downfall.
Keanu Reeves (The Matrix) plays Nelson Moss, a work-obsessed San Francisco advertising executive conjured up straight out of the ’80s clich?. On the day of a crucial pitch, Moss makes a trip to the DMV to take a license test, and manages to get goody-goody Sara Deever (Charlize Theron, The Legend of Bagger Vance), but not himself, in hot water after he gets caught cheating off her.
As it turns out after the test, Deever is a self-taught specialist at transforming coldhearted stiffs into free-spirited, latter-day hippies like herself (the film is actually the remake of a 1968 original, hence the “square” and “hip” overtones). She makes Moss an offer: she will open up his soul to the world if he stays in her apartment with her for one month.
Skeptical at first, Moss continues on his greedy way. When he loses his job after getting into a scuffle with a client and his girlfriend leaves him the same day – all while being pestered by Deever to stay with her – Moss reconsiders. “Why are you doing this?” asks a dumbfounded Moss, who does not yet understand the concept of helping people for free. “Because I can help,” a soothing Deever replies.
Predictably, it does not take much time before Moss begins frolicking with cute puppies and rejecting his old stingy ways.
The main problem with the film is not that Moss changes so quickly, but that almost every element of the story becomes utterly predictable. It appears as if some of the characters were found in a new-age playbook: the small child without a father figure (Liam Aiken), Deever’s best friend who happens to be a transvestite (Jason Isaacs), Moss’ soulless business associate (“Ally McBeal’s” ubiquitous Greg Germann), and so on.
And while it would be nice to report that Reeves’ acting did not make a difference, it does. His delivery, as always, is hard to listen to, and the chemistry created with Theron comes next to nil.
Perhaps the most manipulative part of the moviegoing experience is that there will be no surprises for many viewers. Moviegoers who see the trailer giving away the end of Sweet November should need no further warning that cinematic mush is on its way.
The two best things about the film are its San Francisco setting (another reference to those glorious ’60s) and Theron, who looks like a female Laurence Olivier in comparison to Reeves. She effortlessly glides into her character and picks up the film’s collective slack on many occasions.
A contrived script and subpar acting cannot be defeated easily, though, and clich?d Hollywood production tendencies win out.
Some may appreciate Sweet November simply for its depiction of two adults falling in love, and fans that admit they like trite, overly sentimental plots will find no problem with it. But for those who appreciate realism and intelligent filmmaking, the movie seems drawn-out and lacks impact.