Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Media Mom After Dark: Serendipity

We round out our romantic movie month with a film that's less lighthearted and fluffy and more about asking existential questions regarding the nature of the universe. Namely, are we all just floating about the universe willy-nilly? Or is there really such a thing as destiny?
A chance encounter over a pair of black gloves in a busy New York department store at Christmas time brings Sara Thomas and Jonathan Trager together. But...is it really chance? Sara believes in serendipity, a word that means a "fortunate accident". Some might call it fate. But fate can be a fickle thing. After all, both Sara and Jonathan are seeing other people. After Sara offers to buy Jonathan dinner in exchange for letting her purchase the last pair of gloves on the rack (which he had planned on buying for his own girlfriend), Sara explains that she believes that the universe is constantly sending us little signs to guide us to our destiny and how we interpret and follow the signs determines whether we're happy or not.

They both start to go their separate ways, only to meet back at the restaurant when Sara forgets the gloves and Jonathan forgets his scarf. The couple then decides to spend an evening ice skating in Central Park. As the night wears on, they learn about each other. Their likes and dislikes. Their histories. One might call it a date. Against her better judgment, Sara offers Jonathan her phone number, but it's immediately blown away by a passing truck. Sara takes it as a sign to back off of having a relationship with him. When Jonathan argues that if fate wanted them to back off, they wouldn't have met up in the first place, Sara then hits on a brilliant idea. Jonathan writes his name and number on a five dollar bill and then purchases a pack of mints with it. She says if the bill comes back to her, then they're meant to be. Meanwhile, Sara promises to write her name and number in a copy of the book Love in the Time of Cholera and sell it to a used bookstore the next day. If Jonathan finds the book, then the universe will have spoken. They then go their separate ways, content to let fate take its proper course.
Fast forward several years later, and Jonathan and Sara are engaged...to two different people. Jonathan is marrying Halley in New York. At the same time, Sara, who has moved to San Francisco, is engaged to Lars, an Eastern musician. Neither one has ever truly forgotten that one magical night, however.

Jonathan enlists the help of his friend, Dean Kansky, who works for the New York Times. After getting involved with an infuriating extortionist store clerk (played comically by Eugene Levy), they manage to track down an old credit card application. Sara's last name is illegible, but they have her previous address. They follow a trail of clues around New York to her old apartment's leasing office, her former roommate, and eventually, the roommate placing service only to find it long since shuttered...and replaced with a bridal shop. With only 1 day remaining before his wedding, it seems like Jonathan has run out of time to find out if Sara really was his soul mate, or just destined to be a fond memory of a New York moment.
Meanwhile, Sara has enlisted the help of her friend Eve to go on a trip to New York to try one last chance at finding Jonathan before walking down the aisle herself. Rather than using detective-like resources, however, she just follows gut feelings that take her from the Waldorf Astoria to a driving range to various other spots around the city, where she and Jonathan have many near misses. Just as one leaves, it seems, the other arrives. That's not the only arrival, either. Lars has shown up to apologize for giving Sara less than the attention she deserves as he's been busy planning his European concert tour. The apology is short lived, though. On a romantic carriage ride, Lars becomes engaged once again in planning his tour, forgetting all about Sara in the process.

At their wedding rehearsal at the Waldorf Astoria, Halley is upset with Jonathan for not giving her enough attention, either. He's been so busy trying to find Sara, he's been neglecting his own fiancee. Just when Jonathan seems to be resolved in giving up his quest, a major clue to finding Sara comes his way. He and Dean book a red eye to San Francisco to try and find her before his wedding, even if it's just to convince Jonathan that Halley really is the girl for him. At least, he reasons, he'll finally have closure.

With Jonathan in San Francisco and Sara in New York, will our star-crossed lovers ever get together? Or are they simply pawns in fate's malicious chess game with the universe? (There really aren't any spoilers from here on out, so you get a pass....this time...)
Maybe the absence of spoilers is a spoiler...
This film spends a lot of time asking questions. Serious questions. It also makes some rather interesting observations about life, relationships, and human nature. Most of those observations come, not from our lead couple (portrayed brilliantly by John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale), but from their two close friends Dean (Jeremy Piven) and Eve (Molly Shannon).

"If you're smart enough, you learn from your mistakes. You figure it out. You... you think. You realize that life isn't some elaborate stage play with directions for the actors. Life's a mess, Sara. It's... it's chaos personified," Eve notes to her pal. And, in many ways, she's right. Relationships with other human beings are dynamic. There are so many variables and moving parts and little nuances that it can, at times, look very much like chaos personified. The very same things that may work in one relationship might not work in another. This is because we are all unique individuals, with our own histories, experiences, and feelings. The little random things that drive us to or away from people or situations are often so minute that we just chalk them up to chance.

On the other hand, Dean (who is actually a rather profound writer) states that "...life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. Uh-uh. But rather, its a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan." And in a lot of ways, this is true as well.

Where I draw a dividing line from the movie, though, is in the origin of this tapestry. Rather than leave such a complex and intricate thing to something as impersonal and whimsical as fate or destiny, I recognize that life is forged by the hands of an omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God. Our loving Father is a detailed author. He has a remarkable plan for every one of our lives. Now, rather than force us to follow His plan, He gives us the freedom to choose. Rather than send vague signs, He speaks clearly to our hearts.
I'm guessing that by looking back on your life, you can see the threads of His tapestry for you. Things that seemed so insignificant at the time, in hindsight take on such extreme importance. Like a line of dominoes, you can see how events were organized to bring you where you are and make you who you are today. Not all of those events may have been pleasant. But how we react to difficulties reveals us to ourselves. Every human interaction, for good or ill, shapes our lives in some way, however insignificant.

In my own life, looking back, I can say a good many things that seemed unimportant ultimately changed my life. Had I not decided to go to the private school that I attended, I wouldn't have met the secretary. Had I not met her, I wouldn't have babysat her kids. Had I not babysat her kids, we might not have gotten to be friends. Had we not become friends, I would never have dated her son. Had I never dated her son, I wouldn't have gotten married and had my 2 boys. And all of this hung on the decision of changing schools. Some might say that I simply got lucky. Others might say that it was fate. But having prayed for my husband since I was 4 years old, I know exactly what it was. An answer to prayer. God organized all of it. All I had to do was listen for His will, obey, and trust that my Father wants only the best for me (as any loving father would).
Existential questions aside, the film is another one of my favorites. It has brilliant writing and decent acting. My only caveats are the foul language (there's quite a bit) and a few sex jokes, as well as one shot of a couple making love as seen through a window (nothing you'd call explicit, though). So, definitely not one for the kiddies. But for adults looking for an otherwise sweet romance that's sure to spark some very deep conversations, it's worth the watch. If you've never seen it before, then you might just call reading this review an act of serendipity. Or maybe, just maybe, God was planning it all along.


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