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'Sweet November': Sugar Shock

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2001


    'Sweet November' Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron are too cute for words in "Sweet November." (Warner Bros.)
There are saints among us in the most unlikely places. One of them is Keanu Reeves.

He's charmed and kissed by the gods. This is the only explanation for his stupendous success. Whatever he appears in, he's so likable, no one faults him for anything. He's the sort that walks away from a train crash, orders a Coke and doesn't even think about the disaster he just survived.

Anyone who can be Ted of "Bill & Ted" and the great Buddha, and live to tell the tale, has got something. He's the same unassuming guy, whether he's losing the seat of his pants under a bus in "Speed," dodging bullets in "The Matrix" or working his way through such turkeys as "Permanent Record," "The Prince of Pennsylvania" and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."

And anyone who arranges his moviemaking schedule around his schedule as a bass player for the band Dogstar has got to be cool. I swear there's a dude glow about him.

Here's the point: I forgive him for "Sweet November," a front-end collision of a romance that opens this weekend. And yet, I blame Charlize Theron for being in the same movie. What is that? Celestial Teflon – if you don't got it, you don't got it.

Reeves, or Saint Keanu, plays Nelson Moss, a strident cliche of an arrogant workaholic in San Francisco, who makes sexist ads for his advertising firm, treats his girlfriend like dirt and is obsessed with the bottom line.

Theron is a cliche of a different order. She's Sara Deever, a free-spirited, mysterious beauty who comes into his life one day at the Department of Motor Vehicles. During a test to renew their driver's licenses, Nelson leans over to crib an answer from Sara. The examiner looks up and busts Sara but not Nelson. She has to retake the test after 30 days. He gets away with attempted cheating. But he's too narcissistic to acknowledge his misdeed or even help her out.

Sara, who can't drive for a month, comes at him with a vengeance, demanding rides and his help for all sorts of things. Out of guilt, Nelson helps her out. But she becomes relentless. When he puts up a fight, she embarrasses him in public. What does she want? Eventually, she tells him: One month to live with him, no strings attached. She'll remake his soul, curing him of his cell phone and his inability to appreciate life.

Nelson, who has become attracted to her, in spite of her bullying tactics, agrees to the arrangement. It also helps that by this time he's been fired and his girlfriend has dumped him. Sara takes his watch, his clothes and that phone and gets to work on his yuppie soul.

Why is Sara doing this? What could possibly possess her to take Nelson as a "project"? Unfortunately, her reasons become obvious way before the movie thinks you ought to have figured it out. By then, you've already died of schlock-shock.

I didn't see the 1968 movie of the same name, starring Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley. But it could only have been better. The 2001 "Sweet November," directed by Pat O'Connor, who made "Circle of Friends," should have been called "Cloying November" for its syrupy cliches, greeting-card wisdom (if people just broke down the walls around them, we'd all get along) and over-the-top tragicomedy. And the less said of Sara's adorable, transvestite friend (Jason Isaacs), who works by day as an advertising executive, the better.

But here's the good news: Keanu makes out okay. He walks away from this wreck, heading nonchalantly for the next movie, or Dogstar gig. The dude's gonna be fine.

"Sweet November" (PG-13, 120 minutes) – Contains grotesque cuteness and sexual situations.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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