Jonathan (Cusack) and Sara (Beckinsale) meet one evening while shopping for the holidays in New York. While they're each on a task to purchase a gift for their respective significant others, the two have instant chemistry. Despite both of them wanting to pursue a relationship, Sara decides that their love should be left up to fate - and if they are meant to be, then they will find one another again. Years later, and engaged to other people, Jonathan and Sara both find themselves wondering what could have been.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Each time I watch 'Serendipity' (yes, I've seen it many times) I try figuring out the exact element of this, by definition, "chick-flick" that makes it successfully entertaining and enjoyable no matter your gender or negative prejudices toward the genre. It's a sugary sweet romance movie about two star-crossed lovers trying to listen to and follow Fate's guidance to bring them back together again. What about that sounds appealing to anyone who dislikes cheesy, predictable, and unbelievable romantic comedies? Perhaps aside from the leading actors, nothing – yet I, along with many others who look at the genre with great disdain, love it. This time around, after the umpteenth viewing of this movie, I think I pegged it.
Storywise, everything about 'Serendipity' is typical. It's a typical fairytale rom-com where fate busts its butt to make sure you end up with "the right one." It begins with the typical "first encounter" of our two central characters, Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale). Although both are currently in relationships, they each feel a strong mutual attraction. Jonathan believes their meeting wasn't by chance, but a happy accident that was meant to be, but Sara believes that since they're both committed to other people, that it's forbidden. In her mind, if it's meant to be, they will eventually meet again. Of course, they're separated and several years pass.
Now, both are engaged to other people, but can't ignore the "what-if" feelings about that short fateful evening together. Before stepping into their own marriages, they each give it one last "hoorah" to earnestly seek out one another, only having first names and fate to go off of. With their first meeting and evening together being one of the most charming moments in any romantic comedy, you sure know where this one is going to end.
Of course, casting two easily and highly likeable lead actors sure makes this typical chick flick a step above most (no, I don't think J.Lo, Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Sandler, and Bradley Cooper make for great non-typical rom-com leads), but 'Serendipity' also has something else going for it – it's grounded in reality. The story may be a fairytale, but the world in which it is set is the same as ours. Things aren't always peachy keen. Ending up with a truly great partner requires a lot of effort, it doesn't just fall into your lap simply because it's "love."
The script is witty, intelligent, funny, cute, playful and asexual. Seeing fifty percent of the movie (if not more) through the eyes of a male character immediately takes this romantic comedy out of the danger zone for guys who don't like the genre. Plus, Cusack has a way of playing love-drunk romantic leads in such a way that even the macho guys enjoy watching it. He emits a slice of the inner sappy romantic that every male hides deep within – and we all connect with that, whether we want to admit it or not. It also helps that so many women love John Cusack.
I don't know a single man that would shoot down watching a movie with the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale in it. I believe that the only reason anyone went to see or owns 'Whiteout' at all is because she played the lead – despite wearing a thick unflattering parka for 100 minutes of the 101-minute runtime. Not only is she eye-candy, but she also plays a great "everyday" girl. She never comes across as "faking it." She is natural and smooth. And did I mention that she's quite the looker?
I believe that the combination of the sappy predictability of the rom-com genre, the likeable leads, the great characters, the strong and funny script and the believable reality in which it is set makes 'Serendipity' a recipe for success. Too often we end up with the generic formulaic opposite end product – a highly predictable piece of trash that relies on the lowest-common-denominator for humor, action, heart and story. While I frequently speak my mind concerning my strong dislike for romantic comedies, I should place an asterisk next to those statements referencing the few quality titles lie within the genre, one of them near the top being 'Serendipity.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'Serendipity' on a Region A BD-25 in an eco-friendly blue keepcase that features the same cover art as the DVD release. As per usual with Lionsgate releases, there's a slew of pre-menu fanfair - vanity reels (Lionsgate and Miramax), a disclaimer, trailers ('The Switch,' 'From Prada to Nada,' 'Killers' and '40 Days and 40 Nights') and a commercial (for EPIX) – before the clip- and score-filled main menu.
'Serendipity' has been given a decent 1080p transfer with an AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It's slightly problematic, but better than its DVD counterpart.
Aside from a few rare instances where specks of dirt pop up, the print used for the transfer of this film was masterfully cleaned. The picture is crisp and clear. Due to the inconsistent use of DNR, details aren't always as sharp as they should be. For example, in one shot, Jeremy Piven's corduroy jacket appears as smooth ridge-less suede because the details have been chewed up. In another shot of the same jacket, the fact that it's corduroy is unmistakable. But even then, this is still the best the film has ever looked on home video.
Colors are vibrant and fleshtones appear natural. Black level are almost completely perfect, with the exception of slight clipping in a few scenes. Contrast is right where it should be with only one washed-out nighttime shot making black look gray. Edge enhancement, banding, aliasing, compression artifacts and digital noise are absent. Not to shabby for a little ten-year-old catalog title.
'Serendipity' has been given just one listening option – English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. While it doesn't fully optimize the usage of channels, it isn't problematic in the slightest.
The lossless mix gives most of the sound emphasis to the front and surround speakers, leaving the rear speakers fairly quiet. The most full sounds are always music, but effects are also well-used throughout the channels. The bustling sounds of New York City – car engines, screeching brakes, car alarms and non-stop chatter – bounce around the room.
The dynamics of the audio are perfect. The volumes of the vocal track, effects and music are well balanced with highs and lows. You'll never strain to hear something and won't have to adjust the volume even once. Bass isn't a major player, but when we get a voice-over narration of Piven's obituary, the deep bass of his voice rings out. The same goes for Eugene Levy's voice. There aren't any noticeable instances of imaging.
All of the special features are identical to those on the DVD. Only one feature from the DVD didn't make the cut for the Blu-ray – the still gallery. Just like with many other standard-definition videos tossed onto a Blu-ray, the 4:3 video is horizontally crushed in almost all of the special features.
- Feature Commentary Track with Director Peter Chelsom - Not a terrible commentary, but Chelsom's monotone voice isn't the stuff that great commentaries are made of. It's interesting, but in small doses here and there.
- Behind-the-Scenes 'Starz Encore' "On the Set" (SD, 20 min.) - Odd title for a special feature, right? This low quality feature is nothing more than a promotional tool for the film that ran on the Starz and Encore channels around the theatrical release of 'Serendipity.' It's comprised of clips, interviews and standard behind-the-scenes footage.
- Peter Chelsom's Production Diary - Don't mistake this with a "video diary." This is simply an interactive book that you can flip through with his brief journal entries written on the screen. It documents his thoughts throughout the 55-day shoot and the post-wrapping re-shoots. It's pretty interesting, especially the re-shoot bits that we learn more about in another upcoming special feature.
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Peter Chelsom (SD, 16 min.) - Available to watch individually or as a "play all" collective, these nine scenes were either pre-re-shoot original takes or deleted for obvious reasons. Turning on the optional director commentary gives you this information. It's interesting to learn about the re-shoots because the original scenes change the way you feel about Jonathan and Sara's initial meeting. Tackling these scenes once again proved to be a great idea because there isn't any chemistry between the two at all, although one of the scenes (specifically in the coffee shop Serendipity) is charming enough that it rivals the playful quality of the re-shot version that made the final cut.
- Storyboard Comparison (SD, 1 min.) - Watch a split screen comparison of a the storyboards and the final filmed sequence of Molly Shannon taking a golf ball and a driver to the head at the cramped NYC driving range.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 min.) - This is one of those trailers that would have bugged me because it features footage containing witty banter from the film's deleted scenes. Unremastered, this preview doesn't do the film any justice, making it look like a cookie-cutter rom-com. Had I seen this trailer before seeing the movie, I wouldn't have given the movie a chance.
'Serendipity' is one of the rare chick-flicks that everyone seems to love – guys, girls, even the haters of the genre. It's charming, natural, honest, funny and entertaining while still giving off plenty of sappy romantic content. Cusack and Beckinsale are just as lovable as always and the secondary actors are great too. The clean video quality suffers the detail-removing effects of DNR, but it still looks better than it ever has on home video. The audio sounds great, but the lossless track doesn't fully make use of all the channels. Although the biggest special feature on the disc is a generic promotional tool, there's insightful and informative content spread throughout as well. This material is especially entertaining if you're fond of the movie itself. While 'Serendipity' isn't the best example of a fine catalog transfer, it's a lot better than I expected it to be. At $9.99, this is a must own for fans.
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