Sweet November

 

Laura Clifford 

Robin Clifford 

Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves) is an egotistical, award winning ad man who ends up beholden to free spirit Sara Deever (Charlize Theron) when he gets her thrown out of a DMV test.  As in the 1968 original (starring Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley), Deever 'helps' men by becoming their lover for one month.  While Nelson initially finds Sara to be a complete lunatic, he agrees to her request after being fired and dumped by his girlfriend in "Sweet November."

Laura:
While the concept of "Sweet November" may have worked back in the era of free love and hippies, it's unrealistic to the point of laughability in the 21st century.  Once the bumpy first third of the film, which sets up the couple, has past, however, the charm of the two leads allows the film to coast into agreeably romantic, if predictable, territory before winding up in "Autumn in New York" type cliche.

Reeves' Moss uncannily recalls the high powered exec Nicolas Cage just played in "The Family Man."  His entire life revolves around career success and monetary trappings.  Moss' less talented buddy Vince (Greg Germann, TV's "Ally McBeal") flies on his coattails.

When Nelson asks Sara for an answer during a DMV test, she's ejected from the class, meaning a month long wait for a license renewal.  She rejects his offer to provide a month's salary, instead showing up in his lobby demanding a ride.  Nelson finds himself involved in a caper to free puppies from a medical research lab.  Sara's offer for him to move in for a month so she can 'help' him gets brushed off.  The next day his world falls apart (Reeves rather unconvincingly goes at a client, then challenges his boss when he fires him) and he finds a puppy at his door which he returns to Sara complete with threats of calling the police.  About two minutes later, he's spending the night.

Charlize Theron, who's been seriously overexposed in roles she hasn't distinguished herself in of late ("The Legend of Bagger Vance," "Men of Honor"), is appealing once again co-starring with Reeves (they clicked in "The Devil's Advocate").  Her character's zest for life is addictive. Theron abandons her natural glamour and inhabits the character of a real person.  Reeves gets by here on his likability, which is a liability in the early parts of the film.  He is able to flesh out some backstory, though, as well as turn initial confusion into interest, then enlightenment, before becoming stiff acting out concluding bits of romantic whimsy.

Strong support is given by Jason Isaacs ("The Patriot's" villain) as Sara's downstairs neighbor Chaz.  He may play the stereotypical gay best buddy always ready with the pithy retort, but he does it well.  Isaac's character has not one, but two secrets which provide for some interesting interaction with Reeves' character.  Germann essentially plays his McBeal character without the brash self confidence.  Liam Aiken ("I Dreamed of Africa") is sweet as young neighbor Abner.

Technically, cinematographer Ed Lachman ("Erin Brockovich") makes great use of San Francisco locations, particularly Sara's well chosen neighborhood of Potrero Hill.  Naomi Shohan's production design and Shay Cunliffe's costume anchor the characters.  Director Pat O'Connor ("Circle of Friends") can't smooth over the rough patches of his film, though, nor can he make the story believable enough to get his audience emotionally invested.

C

Robin:
Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves) is an ambitious, uptight, workaholic marketing exec who was, until lately, at the top of his form. Sara Deever (Charlize Theron) is a free-spirited woman who loves life. When the two are thrown together at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Nelson finds that his life, and his attitude, is about to undergo a major change, for the better, in "Sweet November."

Based on the 1968 screenplay by Herman Raucher, "Sweet November" is a modern update of the earlier film starring Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley. This time, Charlize Theron plays the story's heroine, Sara, a beautiful young woman who has the special ability to help certain men with their "problems." Each month she selects a new subject and spends those 30 days helping her ward to overcome their life-limiting obstacles and become kinder and gentler in the process.

When Sara selects Nelson as her November project, he is totally against the idea of her messing with his head for a month. But, when he loses his job because of his arrogance, he reluctantly places himself under the vivacious Sara's wing. The only thing that she did not count on is falling in love. And, the two do. Hard. For the first time in his life, Nelson is happy and he asks Sara to marry him. But, there are storm clouds on the horizon and Sara has good reason to limit her time with Nelson to the agreed upon 30 days - under her unalterable rules..

I noted early on, while watching "Sweet November," that I had willing walked into a chick flick, so I couldn't really complain. But, an hour later, I amended this by jotting down that I was at a MEGA chick flick and started getting concerned. This modern exercise in tear jerking tries very hard and may succeed for those with a penchant for weepers, but it left me cold. Charlize Theron does a fine job as Sara and is quite charming in the role as the sweet love child. Her enthusiasm for life is infectious and palpable as she works, hard, to change her protege. Too bad she chose a stiff like Nelson to lavish her attention upon.

Keanu Reeves has been known to act, sometimes even well, like his supporting perf as an abusive husband in "The Gift." Here, he is a two-dimensional pretty boy who transitions from being an aggressive jerk to a warm, loving puppy dog of a guy in the end. There is no life in Reeves performance, though, and the film would have benefited strongly from a more versatile actor in the lead. Then again, the wooden dialogue provided by writers Kurt Voelker and Paul Yurick may be equally to blame.

Short shrift is paid to the supporting cast, which is limited to only a couple of other characters. Jason Isaacs casts a notable shadow as neighbor Chaz, a gay cross dresser who has a real affection for Sara and her odd lifestyle. He is privy to her secret and why she has perpetuates her 30 days per man plan. As the truth about Sara becomes evident to Nelson and us, the audience, we learn that Chaz has been her dedicated best friend and soul mate. Isaacs, you may remember, made quite a splash last year as the villainous Colonel Tavington opposite Mel Gibson in "The Patriot." If anything comes out of "Sweet November," it should be more roles for Jason Isaacs. Greg Germann, from TV's "Ally McBeal," plays Nelson obnoxious, talentless partner, Vince. Eleven-year old Liam Aiken, as fatherless neighbor Abner, is around to provide Nelson with a chance to get close to his paternal side..

The San Francisco locale is nicely used without making the film look like a travelogue. There is a neighborly feel to where Sara lives that is enhanced by the occasional backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photography, by Ed Klachman ("Erin Brockovitch"), helps capture the look of the great location, as well as the pretty Theron. Other techs are solid, too. Costume, by Shay Cunliffe, gives Theron a waifish, vulnerable look. Reeves goes from slick Armani when he's the obsessive workaholic to baggy jeans and flannel shirts when he becomes a "nice" guy. (He also looks darn good in a dinner jacket.) Production design by Naomi Shohan contrasts the lifestyles of Nelson's high tech, sterile flat with Sara's homey digs a haven for stray or abused animals that need a good home.

I'm not sure of the moral correctness of this updated tale. In the 60's, free sex with multiple partners, unprotected, carried far less of a burden of responsibility than it does today. The idea of someone like Sara taking on a new guy every month, back 35 years ago, had an avant garde quality that fit the dynamics of the time. Now, with the explosion of the information age, communicable disease and the plethora of crazy people out there, I question the safety of someone like Sara. Sara, I ask, have you done a medical screening, checked for a rap sheet and ask to see his bank account? You should.

"Sweet November" would have done better with a more passionate lead actor. Theron is good, but can only carry the movie and implausible fairy tale so far. I give it a C-.

Back To Current Show
Next ShowPrevious Show

Home | Reviews | Ratings | Top 10 | Video | Crew | Article | Links