February is limbo month at the movie theaters. Sequels (Hannibal) and remakes (Down to Earth) dominate the box office as if winter's cold has iced originality. Sweet November falls into the latter category. Although it may seem like a version of last year's Autumn in New York or Love Story, the movie retells a 1968 Sandy Dennis vehicle of the same name.
Charlize Theron plays Sara, a free-spirited soul who takes men into her apartment for monthlong romance and personality makeovers. Ironically enough, she lives in San Francisco, a city whose exponential eviction rates and rocketing property values have forced out real-life Sara types. But never mind that. Sara, like all Hollywood ingénues, is exempt from financial reality. She adores dogs, long walks on the beach punctuated by cartwheels, and her winning gay neighbor (Jason Isaacs). Her November choice is an aggressive ad exec played by Keanu Reeves. Pushing for a hilariously hard-edged ad campaign gets Nelson (Reeves) fired, which leaves the slightly injured yuppie vulnerable to Sara's offer of month of free housing. Nelson undergoes self-transformation in Sara's easygoing universe. This a plot device allows Reaves' much-touted blandness (suppressed in the first half) to shine. Together the pair aspire toward a perfect state of loveliness. Drama arrives with the subtlety of a truck: Sara suffers from a lethal, incurable disease.
Sweet November brings out Reaves' and Theron's camera-primed prettiness to the fullest. Cinematographer Edward Lachman (The Virgin Suicides) helps. There's no mistaking it, this is a pleasant movie to watch. But when one actually begins to follow the characters Reaves' lack of emotional depth rushes to the surface. Themes of carpe diem and undying love shouldn't be this inconsequential.