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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Sweet November (review)

Not Too Sweet

Sara is a free spirit, an eccentric who follows her own rules. Nelson is such a selfish asshole that he cheats on a DMV test… and since when do you need to take a written test to get your driver’s license renewed? What the hell…? Is this a California thing?

No, it’s a romantic-movie thing. Logic doesn’t enter into it. You have to feel it, be swept away by the utter nonsense of it all. But with Sweet November, you have to be willing to leave at home not only your brain but also your sense of what constitutes romance. Come fully equipped, and you’ll be gnashing your teeth and pulling your hair before the first reel ends.
Isn’t it cute, how Nelson (Keanu Reeves: The Gift, The Matrix) tries to cheat off Sara (Charlize Theron: The Legend of Bagger Vance, Reindeer Games) and then she’s the one who gets thrown out? Isn’t it funny how she connives him into driving her around San Francisco, since, because she couldn’t take her test she can’t drive for a month (huh?)? Aren’t they totally and hilariously unsuited for each other?

Of course they are. That’s what you get when you create movies according to formulas. Sure, this is a loose remake of an older film of the same name, but that’s beside the point. We no longer people movies with characters — we people them with extremes. Nelson’s not any ordinary jerk — he’s in advertising, the lazy screenwriter’s shorthand for “soulless minion of Satan.” Sara is not any ordinary hippie — she’s a nutjob who rotates her boyfriends on a monthly basis. She’s a little too desperate for Nelson’s attention, and she stalks him and cries things like “I will devote myself entirely to you” until he agrees to let her show him why his lifestyle is rotten and hers is ideal. If someone behaved like this in real life, you’d get a restraining order, but Nelson is of course Mysteriously Intrigued.

Feel free to heave a giant sigh at this point. As you might have guessed, you can set your watch by the plot points here: the argument in the rain, the scene in which she slowly approaches him as he sits on the edge of the bed, his literally overnight transformation from pit bull to puppy. A couple of walks on the beach, and he’s a peachy keen guy all of a sudden.

See Sara turn cartwheels in the sand! See Sara dish with her fabulous, gratuitously gay friend (Jason Isaacs: The Patriot, The End of the Affair, the only bright spot here)! Isn’t she free? Isn’t she wonderfully individual? Isn’t she living life to the fullest? Can’t you guess why?

There’s nothing inherently romantic about watching two physically attractive people bathing together in a claw-foot tub in a bohemian San Francisco apartment. But Sweet November thinks there is, thinks that image and cliché can substitute for characters we care about and believe in. They can’t.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for sexual content and language, including some crude sexual references

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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