Sweet November (The Cornfield #47)

At least one more Film.com review from 2001, this one a particularly flaccid remake.

Pat O’Connor’s directorial output has been sufficiently uneven (Cal on the plus side, Inventing the Abbotts on the other) that it is credible he could turn out something as monumentally silly as Sweet November. I, for one, find it hard to believe this film was not actually directed by Randal Kleiser, the delirious auteur of Grease, The Blue Lagoon, and the incomparable Summer Lovers. Surely the Kleiseresque signature is writ large across the walks on the beach, the close-ups of puppies, the rich Dark Victory-style explosion of melodrama halfway through…oh, just the whole overripe free-spiritedness of it all.

Truth be told, Kleiser would have made a more entertaining job of this mess. Sweet November is a re-do of a 1968 film, with Sandy Dennis in kook mode. The whole idea is Sixties-ish: a soulless advertising man has his life co-opted for a month by a flaky young woman, who’s in the habit of bringing men into her home for thirty days of spiritual rehab. One at a time, of course. November’s man is Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves); he’s recently broken down while trying to sell a client on an inappropriately sexy campaign for marketing hot dogs. The scene is one of the funniest Reeves has ever played, although he reverts to his customary uncertainty thereafter. He meets free spirit Sara Deever (Charlize Theron) when he literally passes her the salami, a joke the movie doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Sara “liberates” dogs from a research laboratory, which appears to be her only occupation. When she convinces Nelson to move into her wacky San Francisco apartment, she urges him to dump his old friends, nags him about his habits, and gets rid of his clothes. Could somebody get the Saving Silverman guys at work on this woman? Nelson, for his part, is self-centered and humorless.

We spend two hours with these people.

It couldn’t get worse, but the big plot twist is yet to come. There’s very little else going on in the film; Greg Germann summons up some laughs as Nelson’s ad partner, but the movie strongly disapproves of him. Jason Isaacs, last seen massacring members of Mel Gibson’s family in The Patriot, is Sara’s best friend, who naturally would be a gay transvestite downstairs neighbor. (See? Randal Kleiser movie.)

Charlize Theron has charm and skill, but no actress could survive this role, which has the gravity and verisimilitude of a sketch from a late-sixties Nancy Sinatra TV special. Reunited with her Devil’s Advocate co-star, Theron looks as though she’s still trying to think of some way to animate Mr. Reeves. Since that corresponds to her character’s situation—joshing and cajoling a reluctant man into life—her casting is the only apt thing in this movie.