Like a jigsaw that’s more fun to assemble before you know how all the pieces fit, Greg Harrison’s brain-teasing meta-thriller November is less compelling the more apparent its solution becomes. But before the foregone conclusion surfaces about halfway through, its disparate, unnerving components are mesmerizing. Presented semi- Rashomon-style as a trio of conflicting perspectives, November examines the grief and confusion of photography teacher Sophie Jacobs (Courteney Cox) after her boyfriend, Hugh (James LeGros), is killed during a convenience store robbery. The shooting and earlier occurrences are covered in three lugubriously intertitled acts, where the details vary and the outcome is subtly but dramatically different. Clues to the actual chain of events abound, but Sophie’s fractured psyche can only assimilate them piecemeal. She gets some assistance from a shrink (Nora Dunn), a cop (Nick Offerman), and her nagging mom (Anne Archer).
At best, November evokes the metaphysical dread and topsy-turvy existentialism of films like Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and inevitably, Mulholland Drive. Like them, it mimics the disorienting effects of trauma on memory and consciousness, while leaving the impression that something unearthly is at play. But November runs out of surprises well before it climaxes, and by the third go-round the plot’s thinness is all that’s left to illuminate. Harrison’s indifference to the acting doesn’t help: Cox is left to convey Sophie’s emotional tumult via an icy, flat demeanor that suggests impatience rather than depression, while LeGros is ever the benignly charming slacker (playing an attorney, no less), over whom it’s hard to imagine anyone getting worked up. Harrison—a trailer editor before turning to directing and November‘s editor as well—pays more attention to the cutting, cinematography, and sound design, and the atmosphere he achieves through inexplicably creepy noises, skewed perspectives, and disquieting color shifts is where the film leaves its most lasting impression. Ultimately, however, the enormity of Sophie’s loss is overshadowed—and not underscored—by the cinematic trickery. At one point, as she lectures her class, Sophie says that artists often “assert something by excluding.” If, like Harrison, they’re not careful, they’re just as likely to exclude something by asserting.