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[whitespace] 'Sweet November'
Photograph by Merie W. Wallace

Flower Power: Keanu Reeves romances Charlize Theron in 'Sweet November.'

Smelly Mess

'Sweet November' remakes the equally emetic 1968 original

By Richard von Busack

THE ONE AND ONLY Keanu Reeves plays Nelson, a hyped-up San Francisco ad executive who loses his job in Sweet November. Fortunately, a perky, childish blonde dog groomer named Sara Deever (Charlize Theron) is there with a free offer, which she presses with repellent insistence. If Nelson turns himself over to her utterly for a makeover, she'll save him from the soulless life he's living. She'll be totally honest and give herself freely--of course, she won't mention that she's suffering from Hollywood Movie Disease (we've seen this in the previews), and she'll act as petulant and tantrummy as a 5-year-old if he takes so much as an afternoon away from her. Nelson's supposed to be just one of Sara's one-month specials, whom she refers to as "October" and "September," as if they were Playgirl centerfolds.

In the 1968 version of this story, Sandy Dennis (who played the whimsical goner) went on and found a December. Here, Sara retires from her "rules," and the only possible excuse for this ipecac cocktail was that merciless twist of the doomed woman flitting off selflessly to save one more male from the insensitivity of modern-day life. Anyway, Sara's desperate gaiety in the face of eternity isn't really found through serial lovers but in turning cartwheels on the beach, cuddling puppies and wearing a rainbow clown wig like Mr. John 3:16 at the NFL games. Love isn't about helping someone who suffers from a messy disease--it's about jailing your man and acting like a toddler to keep him.

The film also stars Greg Germann, of TV's Ally McPule, as Reeves' unredeemable ad agency friend, and The Patriot's Jason Isaacs as, get this, a man who dresses in women's clothes! (If you think I was shocked, you should have seen Keanu's flabbergasted face!) Thank God for one scene of Frank Langella introducing a taste of real world ruthlessness and discernment into this nigh-fatal dose of wheelchair kitsch.

Note that scriptwriter Herman Summer of '42 Rauscher wrote the original Sweet November for the wee male lead Anthony Newley, "the sultan of smarm." In gratitude, Newley hired Rauscher to co-script Newley's subsequent film, his answer to 8 1/2: Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), the worst movie ever made. Starring in any version of Sweet November would make a man feel as if he were standing on the abyss; expect a similar Humppean "Who am I? Why am I in showbiz?" cinematic confessional from Sweet November's star, Keanu Reeves.

Sweet November (PG-13; 114 min.), directed by Pat O'Connor, written by Kurt Voelker, photographed by Edward Lachman and starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, opens Friday.

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From the February 14-21, 2001, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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