Being the Panda I am, I was never too much into romantic movies. A lot of them are about sex, lust or relationships. I do not care about that kind of stuff at all. I also do not really like the dramatic ones where one is dying, dead or tore apart from their lover through other means. So stuff like the notebook, the lakehouse or currently more relevant, the Holiday have never been my jam. Yet there is one romantic movie that makes me swoon and smile and be all giddy wondering when things like this will happen to me. That movie is Serendipity , a movie from 2001 featuring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale with more minor roles for Jeremy Piven and Molly Shannon. What makes this romance heavy movie so different? It’s all in the message.
Two Horrible People
On one faithfull night in New York Sara Thomas and Jonathan Trager meet in a department store, trying to buy the same set of gloves while doing christmas shopping for their partners. When trying to decide which of them gets the gloves they share a deeper connection and end up having a wonderful evening together. Jonathan lets Sara keep the gloves and she treats him to coffee, from their on out it is clear that these two fall head over heels for each other. Yet they both have relationships so it would not seem meant for them to be together? Or do they, that night they keep encountering each other and falling under each others spell more and more. With one final test they try to see if they should be together by picking a random floor on a 50 floor hotel. Sara is a big believer into these sort of ideas. While both pick the same floor, a kid getting in the elevator dressed like the devil ruins Johnathan’s shot at this woman and the two are forced to go back to their old lives. Only a book with her phone number, or a dollar with his phone number can bring them back together again. Yet as the years pass by, nothing seems to happen.
Years later both of them get ready to tie the respective knots with their partners, yet both want to give it one more shot to find that mysterious encounter of many years ago, will destiny bring them together or will they wise up and let go of this wild little idea of romance? At first glance this is a very generic plot and in some ways it kind of is. Yet there is a monumental difference between this and basically all other romantic movies. These are the bad guys we are following. Normally we see a girl being neglected by her boyfriend and she finds out she deserves better during the movie. We see a guy who is being kept on a too short leash by his gal, realising near the end that he has his own rights as well, he doesn’t just have to live for her. The partners of Jonathan and Sara are actually pretty great people. Kate Beckinsale being slightly worse off due to her boyfriend being very busy with a weird flute album. Yet both the flutist and Jonathan’s fiancé show very much love and devotion towards their significant other. The main characters just can’t full reciprocate that love. They are the horrible people we would hate in any other movie, They lie to their partners on a whim and they both plan to be unfaithful or at least put their obsession for each other to an end so they can finally move on. During this movie they are both shown to be very selfish and inconsiderate to the feelings of others because that passion they have deep inside … and I love it.
This movie teaches an all important lesson that people in this day and age have oh so forgotten. The first person you need to make happy .. is yourself. These days we get obsessed by doing the right thing, by being politically correct and by being the nice person we often end up selling ourselves short. We play pretend that nothing is wrong not to hurt others feelings, while experiencing misery ourselves. Jonathan and Sara .. as well as this movie in general are a message that you should never settle. A partner should never be the one that is good enough. A partner should always want to be the one, you want to be with more than anything else. The key about a successful relationship is that you have to look out for yourself first. Priority 1 is to make sure, your partner makes you happy, not making your partner happy. While of course you also need to treat your partner well, they can’t tell if they actually make you happy, nor can you completely see if you make them happy so stick with the facts first and do not sell yourself short. If you are not happy with your partner you can never make them truly happy, because if they love you.. that is their desire.
Serendipity gets this right and while the connection between Beckinsale and Cusack really sparkles and you can actually really feel this is really a movie about them realising their own happiness comes first.
While this movie is at times overly sweet and the love between our two leads seems larger than live, it doesn’t detract from the message. The movie is not so much about the search for that person.. it’s a search for that moment of true happiness that both of them got to experience true happiness. This is also reflected in the way the dialogues are written. Sara admits to her friend Halley she barely even remembers Jonathan or what they did. She can only remember that sensation. She can’t even remember his looks that well. Meanwhile Cusack’s character frantically searches for something and he doesn’t even really knows what exactly he wants from Sara. It reflects that they aren’t really looking for each other, but looking for that feeling the other gave them. It’s something you can’t put into words something unexplainable.. something larger than life. The movie handles this well that in a way it even overwrites it’s own “plot holes”.
Whims of Fate
Sara is initially being depicted as very superstitious if Jonathan and her are not at the same place at the same time, it’s not meant to be. Johnathan is much more pragmatic and tries to bend fate to his hand. Throughout the movie we see many, many instances of Serendipity each scene showing that they SHOULD be together. Like how they pick the same level on the elevator in the movies intro. This kind of stuff keeps happening throughout the movie implying that Beckinsale and Cusack are meant to be together each action they take brings them closer to each other or evento each others location, however the actions of others keep stopping them. A mascotte tilts over and Sara picks it up..being seconds late to meet Jonathan misses meeting Sara because of a store clerk gives him a hard time it all can feel a bit cringeworthy at times. One might even argue that actually faith is telling them that it is not meant to be. So while I absolutely adore this movie, I can see that at times it can really miss the Serendipity mark. Which is it are they meant to be together or not. What should I feel as the viewer? There is no clear answer, you are thrown for a loop and it’s not all perfectly clear what happens when. As a result some scenes can feel a bit inconsequential. The status quo doesn’t really change from beginning to end so it can feel a bit light on plot. While accepting fate as a force wby they SHOULD be together though, both characters seem to ignore it when told they should NOT.
Yet that again to me is the beauty of this movie, there isn’t a chain of beautiful hollywood memories. This movie is all about that one moment and two people’s obsession by it. Breaking their own rules, in favor of each other. We do not get super unlikely chains of events that drive these two apart. No .. it is as simple as having other social obligations, making a little excuse to bail out on something, little misunderstandings. Johnathan does not interact with people willy nilly and neither does Sara. They mostly just share their concerns with their best friends, who do their best to advice them. While Cusack and Beckinsale clearly out-act their respective best friends, it still feels very human. To me, no matter how unlikely the situation would be resembles a true love story the most I have ever seen in a Hollywood movie. These are normal people who realise their other partner is not good enough for them. Not because those people they are with are bad guys.. no.. they simply do not love them enough. Something they needed a magical moment for to realise. Trying to stay with their partner after that .. made sense as well, it’s human nature to rather have something than nothing after all. We can not control what we feel, we just get pushed into situations that makes us feel, that is what makes us human and that what makes this a darn enjoyable movie.
A fortunate accident
I was about 15 when I first saw the trailer to this movie, at that point in my life, I should not have really liked this , considering who I was back then. Yet I did, the trailer already captured me. I had no one to see it in theater with me though so I never did. Then I forgot the title and could never find it in the video store. Years later, in late 2008 or something. I was sick one day, mom would rent me a bunch of movies. I knew about the Firefly movie so I asked mom to rent me Serenity, that Firefly movie. I was really sick so I could barely speak, so all she heard was Seren. My mom being the good egg that she is, rented both Serenity and Serendipity because she did not know which one I meant. She did not look at what they were about. Maybe it was the high fever that made me dream away with this movie, maybe it was that I actually watch Serendipity trough serendipity but I loved the heck out of it.
To this day I think this one has the healthiest image of love, even if the characters might be some of the more toxic lovers you see in these. Love is not about putting your partner on a pedestal and conquering or being conquered by that person. Love is not going from friends with benefits to more. Love is about finding that magical feeling of happiness inside you.. that feeling of perfect bliss. Then you dedicate yourself to be with the person that makes you feel that way. These persons can give you, and in essence are the most beautiful gift you can have. True happiness.It’s not about finding who’s right for you nor about being the right person. It’s about finding that magic of true happiness and keeping that magic alive and about how sometimes you are going to have to be the baddy to find it. Serendipity nails that feeling for me. From beginning to end. While it’s not a highflyer.. this just feels so right.