Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) has just met Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale), each shopping for their significant other’s Christmas present. Instantly they fall in love but it’s happening at the worst possible moment. So they leave it to fate; Jonathan writes his number on a five dollar bill while Sara writes hers on the inside jacket of a book and they send these objects out into the world. A few years go by and just as each are about to get married to someone else, they franticly search one another out, hoping to find them before it is too late.
Serendipity (2001) plays with the same themes of kismet and missed opportunities as Nora Ephron’s Sleepless In Seattle (1993) but to lesser effect. By doubling down on the wanderlust of these characters the believability of the narrative is severely compromised. It’s a matter of too many coincidences that are broadcasted too loudly to the viewer.
Director Peter Chelsom imbues Serendipity with a real love for New York city but the charms of his earlier, more character driven film Hear My Song (1991) are absent. So instead Cusack and Beckinsale are relied upon to really carry Serendipity. The two stars to more than an adequate job and elevate a mediocre romantic comedy. Supporting turns from Molly Shannon and Jeremy Piven help, though neither actually gets enough screen time to firmly establish their relationships to the protagonists.
The great unsung hero of Serendipity is John Corbett as Lars, Sara’s goofy New Age jazz musician fiancé. The ludicrous beef cake portraits of Corbett that adorn nightclub walls are hysterical. Even more hysterical is the music video he’s working on in which he subdues viking raiders with his crappy music. In terms of satire these segments of Serendipity shine.
Serendipity isn’t bad, it just isn’t a classic from the last great era of romantic comedies. Fortunately it’s aged better than many of its contemporaries. For fans of the genre or of the two leads Serendipity is bound to become a seasonal favorite. At the very least one gets to watch Beckinsale and Shannon be silly gal pals for a little while.