Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron traded the anti-Christ for anti-chemistry in Sweet November

Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron
Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron
Screenshot: Sweet November

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With Man Of Steel costars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane appearing together again in Let Him Go, we’re looking back at other onscreen star reunions.

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Sweet November (2001)

Some star reunions cement the bond between two performers while others offer only diminishing returns. Sweet November falls decidedly in the latter category, with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron generating less heat in an actual love story than in Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate four years prior. A remake of a 1968 romantic comedy written by Herman Raucher, Pat O’Connor’s maudlin romantic drama is worth a morbid-curiosity watch—not just for draining the chemistry between the two leads but also for somehow devising a more depressing ending for Reeves’ and Theron’s characters than their previous collaboration, which we’ll remind you features a deal with the Devil.

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Though their romance was eclipsed by Al Pacino’s love for chewing scenery, Theron and Reeves at least looked, in The Devil’s Advocate, like the kind of beautiful, still-infatuated couple that sparks envy in others. They’re less believable together in Sweet November. Reeves stars as the improbably named Nelson Moss, a hotshot ad man who loses his way after meeting Sara (Theron), the tweely-dressed proprietor of a mobile dog-grooming business. Their meet-cute involves the DMV and salami, in case you needed a reminder that the 2000s were a bad time for romantic comedies/dramedies. Otherwise, the plot is the same as it was in the original: Nelson moves in with Sara after losing his job, she gets him to slow down and savor life, and then tragedy strikes.

Reeves and Theron play a sexy game of hide-and-seek and get cozy in a bubble bath, but you could swap Reeves’ character for that of Sara’s neighbor, Chaz (Jason Isaacs, in the supportive gay best friend role), and achieve the same effect. Reeves had more than proven himself as a romantic lead by 2001 (give or take a Bram Stoker’s Dracula), while Theron had shown dreamgirl appeal in The Cider House Rules and Reindeer Games. But the two leads just never click—in an early scene, Nelson races to undress Sara and she complains about his less-than-romantic finesse, which recalls a similar interaction in The Devil’s Advocate. Even after Nelson’s given himself over to Sara’s tutelage, there’s no discernible increase in affection or sensuality. The relationship stalls as the movie heads toward its ostensible tear-jerking conclusion.

Sweet November’s second act features a honeymoon phase on a more accelerated schedule than most, for reasons that are made clear in the film’s denouement. Nelson goes for long walks on the beach, plays dad to Sara’s lonely young neighbor, and swaps business meals at Michelin-star eateries for dining on vegan bacon in a fourth-floor walk-up in the Mission. The lifestyle makeover Sara promised him plays out like an extended version of a standard rom-com montage, complete with a kiss on a cable car. But the quid pro quo that started the relationship ultimately undermines it. We’ve seen similar propositions in rom-coms like Pretty Woman, She’s All That, and 10 Things I Hate About You, but the undeniable chemistry between their respective leads transcended them. Reeves and Theron still look good together, whenever Sara’s lessons allow for them to actually be close instead of doing cartwheels with a group of poodles. But in Sweet November, pleasure is just business-like.

The film’s real accomplishment lies not in convincing us of the things Nelson and Sara will do for love but the things actors, established and otherwise, will do to try to sell us on a doomed love story. Theron styles her hair with a vacuum, kick-boxes in hiking boots and a kimono, and hitchhikes to Oakland dressed as a bankrobber to rescue a dog. Reeves, meanwhile, works himself into a froth over a phallic ad campaign, barks at his nine TVs, and, for only the second time on film, serenades the object of his affection. The sparks may not fly between Nelson and Sara, but Reeves and Theron showed their commitment.

Availability: Sweet November is currently streaming on Hoopla. It’s also available to rent or purchase from Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, Microsoft, Fandango, Redbox, DirectTV, and VUDU. 

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