'Sweet November': Slow Death by Syrup
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2001
You, Charlize Theron, are on the cusp
of greatness. You are young, insanely beautiful,
talented, adorable and hot.
Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron are too cute for words in "Sweet November."
What you yet
lack, my sweet, is a screen persona. You can't be
all over the place like you are now, in a film a week,
in a personality a week. Dearest dear, you need to
construct your movie identity on the model of a
great star, and understand how she got the last drop
of brilliance from herself.
recommend Bette Davis for the uncompromising
will, or possibly Carole Lombard for the
unquenchable spunk, or even Elizabeth Taylor for
the extraordinary je ne sais quoi.
have chosen . . . Sandy Dennis?
seems to be the sad truth concealed in the lump of
sugar-coated awfulness called "Sweet November." It
is indeed a remake of the Sandy Dennis vehicle of
1968 in which the dithering, whimpering, wet-nosed
Dennis played a kooky, zany, wacky spitfire who
makes it her business to rescue some poor prig in a
suit-coat from a life of wretched misery doing his
job. She's on a prig-of-the-month plan.
premise has been ever so slightly updated, not that
you would notice: Keanu Reeves is still an ad guy,
as was Anthony Newley in the dimly remembered
original, but he no longer wears suits because of
course nobody wears suits anymore. He wears tight
pants and dark silk shirts. This is
And the movie still has a disease
in it. Actually, I might have said the movie is a
disease, but that would be unkind and I want to save
today's random act of cruelty for something more
deserving. So let us just say that if you like
watching beautiful young women think they're acting
when they do big tragic scenes on the theme of
health decline "Oh, my forehead is on fire!" then
you will be happy as a pig who made it alive out of
the bacon factory while your sibs are decorating
club sandwiches all over town.
The first half
of the film is spent deconstructing the masculine
identity of Reeves's character. As a Benz driver and
workaholic named Nelson Moss, he has achieved
success by hard work and aggressiveness. Of
course he must be broken for these crimes against
humanity. This is achieved, with Job-like
arbitrariness, when he freaks out in response to a
client who isn't recognizing his genius. Thus
separated from his job (his girlfriend also dumps
him, because he cares so much for his job) and
suddenly at loose ends, he is vulnerable to Sara
Deever's (Theron) brazen attempts to take over his
life after a laborious meet-up scene at the
Department of Motor Vehicles.
might wonder: Who on earth could resist Charlize
Theron? Well, if she's imitating Sandy Dennis, it's
not all that hard. Most adult men would run
screaming from this braying narcissistic
psychopath, attractive or not.
Sara is a free
spirit, meaning she lives in a funky house and
makes rescues her avocation (she appears to have
no vocation). She saves dogs and men from the fate
of being dogs and men. One is not supposed to pee
on the floor and the other is not supposed to spend
too much time at the office, but the movie isn't sure
which is which. Men, dogs? Is there a
She invites Nelson to move in,
where she promptly strips him of watch, cell phone
and wardrobe in exchange for hippie sex, which the
movie doesn't document to any interesting degree
(which is why it's a PG-13, not an R). The movie
preaches that inside every lion there's a lamb pining
to baa-baa on command for a headstrong young
Nelson, orgasmified, sees the
light; he falls in love with her; he even learns to be
nice to her best pal, who lives in drag next door.
That's quite an accomplishment for Nelson,
considering that under the lip gloss and the
moisturizer and the mascara lurks none other than
Jason Isaacs, who played that mean old Col.
Tavington who killed Mel Gibson's handsome son
219 years ago in "The Patriot." Enlightened Nelson
also stalks out on a nasty ad exec (professionally
nasty Frank Langella) who belittles a waitress.
That's big of Keanu: He has become, as the movie
preaches from the bully pulpit, a better
Will you marry me, he croons,
knowing that he's violating the rules of their
engagement, which hold that it can only last a
By now Sara has started coughing
and having intense headaches, so you think he'd
catch on. But he doesn't, because he's Keanu
Reeves, after all.
The movie is shamelessly
manipulative in a crude, bullying way. It telegraphs
all its moves long in advance and it even manages
the strange trick of making San Francisco seem
unattractive and fatal diseases in beautiful women
seem attractive. When I'm thinking, "Like hurry up
and die," it's not a good sign.
November" (120 minutes) is rated
PG-13 for well, I have no idea. It suggests this
just in that adults have sex, I guess.