Arts: Serendipity offers impressive story

New Miramax release Serendipity evokes all the emotions that come to mind when the title crosses one’s lips: it’s cute, charming and almost magical. Stars John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale take their chances with destiny in the film, and the result is a romantic comedy about life’s happy accidents.

Attraction hits main characters Jonathan (Cusack) and Sara (Beckinsale) the moment they meet at Bloomingdale’s amid busy holiday shoppers. The pair spends the rest of the evening flirting and roaming Manhattan.

They do not know each other’s name, where they live or anything else personal. All they know is that each is involved in a relationship, which is enough for Sara to believe they were not meant to be.

But Jonathan disagrees and insists on knowing her name and phone number. Sara’s faith in destiny leads her to write the information inside a book, get rid of the book and see if one day it will cross his path. Jonathan thinks she is insane to rely on this questionable test of fate, but she vanishes before he can protest.

A few years pass and both have moved on, ending up on opposite ends of the country with their respective fiancees. With marriage on the horizon and sudden small reminders of that romantic winter night 10 years before, they each begin to wonder about the one that got away. In desperate attempts to locate each other, they employ their hesitant best friends, a moody French painter and a self-important Bloomingdale’s salesman played by Eugene Levy, best known for his role as Jim’s dad in American Pie.

Serendipity’s story is enticing. Several moments in which Sara and Jonathan just happen to miss each other keep the audience eager to see if and when they might finally meet. Cusack (America’s Sweethearts) is not quite as lovable as he has been in past roles, but nevertheless he is charismatic and a pleasure to watch. Beckinsale, last seen in last summer’s Pearl Harbor, is endearing as the superstitious optimist who believes that everything happens for a reason.

Jeremy Piven (The Family Man) is hilarious as Jonathan’s best friend Dean. The rapport between the two is natural and laughable, making it no surprise that the two have been paired together before in Grosse Pointe Blank and Say Anything. Straying from her role as the armpit-sniffing Catholic schoolgirl in “Saturday Night Live,” Molly Shannon plays the more subtle character of Eve, Sara’s cynical best friend. Her performance is not fabulous but adequate. Shannon is not nearly as corny as in previous roles.

The cast is generally delightful. Added gusto comes from Levy and John Corbett as Lars (“Northern Exposure”). Lars is Sara’s boyfriend, the self-absorbed new-age musician who seems more interested in his music video than his fiancee.

Directed by Peter Chelsom (The Mighty), Serendipity is an inventive love story with plenty of wit. Anyone who lives in fear of chick flicks should not worry, because it intelligently avoids being too sentimental. You will leave the theater feeling satisfied and just might think twice the next time something coincidental happens.

-Serendipity is in theaters Friday

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