Now that irony is dead, it’s a sanctioned pleasure to embrace Serendipity, shopworn fluff as regressive as its namesake Upper East Side dessert parlor. Amiable Jonathan (John Cusack) and British Sara (Kate Beckinsale, accent intact after the last days of Pearl Harbor) retire to the precious patisserie after meeting way too cute at Bloomie’s, each trying to snag the last pair of black cashmere gloves for a significant other. Sara recites her moony faith in destiny, to her companion’s chagrin; instead of exchanging surnames and phone numbers like normal people, Jonathan must jot the contact info across a five-spot (immediately spent and dispersed), Sara onto the flyleaf of Love in the Time of Cholera (hocked the next day). Fate will bring them together, or it won’t.
It takes García Márquez’s parted couple half a century to reunite; Serendipity has no time for such dawdling, jumping a few years to the eve of Jonathan’s wedding (to a doelike Bridget Moynahan) and the night Sara (now a straight-talking Bay Area therapist) gets engaged to an oboist with Yanni-sized ambitions. (San Francisco apparently treats its oboists like minor deities.) Before you can say “Julia Roberts movie,” Jonathan starts reading traces of Sara everywhere and enlists his best man in a last-ditch search (yielding the grad-school-incubated line “Maybe the absence of signs is a sign”). Meanwhile his beloved comes to New York and checks into the Waldorf, coincidentally the site of Jonathan’s impending nuptials. Book, bill, and other pieces fall into place; the heart wants what it wants, and love conquers all, including any guilt for throwing over your betrothed.
Like the gruesome You’ve Got Mail, Serendipity trots out tourist-friendly backdrops—Wollman Rink somehow ceilinged by stars, Chelsea Piers simply a fancy driving range—but it’s oddly pleasurable to see the city in this prelapsarian light. At the clinch, as magic-realist snow falls in spring, the fussy soundtrack gives way to a Nick Drake song so pretty that all is forgiven. Serendipity is the most romantic New York movie since August’s Happy Accidents.