Terminal Endearment


An extra-thick vanilla schmalted with just the right amount of raw sugar to summon the awwwws of high school girls, Sweet November updates the 1968 Sandy Dennis­Anthony Newley weepie to San Francisco 2001, where hard-charging adman Keanu Reeves meets up with impish, oversized-sweater-clad waif Charlize Theron, who has this curious, interventionist life pattern of ”rescuing” socially impacted men for a single month of love, beach walks, and dog playing. For the second time (after Devil’s Advocate) Charlize is stuck trying to arrest Keanu’s bulletheaded workaholism with a 30-day sensitivity-training agenda, which has a lot to do with reconciling Mars and Venus (”Go slow,” she tells him as they undress), getting friendly with the menschy gay neighbor (Jason Isaacs), and disabling the mobile phone.

Of course, the inoffensively oddball, 33-year-old scenario has a cancerous end point that has precipitated all this stopping and rose smelling, and Sweet November winds up promoting serial monogamy as a mode of alternative self-care. Terminal tragedy still has its fans in Hollywood, and although Pat O’Connor’s movie resists a deathbed scene, for young viewers it could be a good deal more affecting than Freddie Prinze Jr.’s fumblebum romances. If the movie works on its own insipid level, it’s because of high-gear star power—50 times the captivator Dennis ever was, Theron is terrific at creating adorable intimacy with little help from the script or director and exudes more guileless élan than any of the film’s many puppies. Reeves, whose fascinating filmography seems divided between droopy stoners and ramrod career freaks, ransacks his persona for scraps of charm, and he almost makes a Newley-ish redemption-by-wacky-gifts set piece go down smoothly. Keanu’s monolithic minimalism has its plus side—in his final close-up, Reeves with lonesome tears in his eyes is a positively disconcerting sight.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 20, 2001

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