Many critics seem to enjoy deriding Keanu Reeves, but I don’t count myself among that number. For all of his limitations, there’s something inherently likable about the guy that makes me continue to root for his success. I’m not sure what this is; perhaps it’s because so many others love to attack him that I wish him the best.
However, if Keanu continues to make bombs like Sweet November, I may have to change my mind. Every once in a while he makes a smart career choice, such as his decision to avoid Speed 2, but too many of Reeves’ films are warmed-over junk like this or The Replacements. Perhaps he figures that he can live off the potential success of the sequels to The Matrix, so he doesn’t need to find good material for the rest of his flicks.
On the page, Sweet November may have seemed like a good idea for Reeves since it would help stretch his range. Due to The Matrix, Speed and Point Break, we know he can acquit himself reasonably well in action films, and via Parenthood and the Bill and Ted pieces, we see that he can fit in nicely with some comedies, though The Replacements shows that he’s far from infallible in this department.
Drama is the area in which Reeves demonstrates the least success, and one viewing of Sweet November will show the reasons for this. In the film, Reeves plays Nelson Moss, a hotshot advertising man who eats, sleeps and breathes his job. However, he seems to be on the verge of burnout, as his latest campaign for a hot dog company goes way past the boundaries of good taste and loses the account for his company. When Nelson refuses to take a vacation, his boss fires him.
At the same time, he encounters an attractive, free-spirited woman named Sara Deever (Charlize Theron). They meet at the DMV while they both take a driver’s license test. Nelson tries to cheat off of her, but she gets reprimanded and loses driving privileges for months. Yuppie scum that he is, Nelson never admits the truth, but for some odd reason, she appears to be interested in him nonetheless.
Actually, it’s probably because he’s such a self-centered jerk that Sara develops a concern about him. As we learn, she takes in one “project” man a month and helps him improve whatever problems he may have, and she’s determined to make Nelson her “November”. For example, “October” was shy and ill at ease around women, but she cured that issue. For Nelson, she wants to get him to stop and smell the roses.
Although he initially resists her offer, Nelson soon takes her up on it, largely because a) Sara’s hot, and b) sex seems likely. Of course, the relationship doesn’t restrict itself to the carnal realm, and soon the pair become both close friends and lovers.
It won’t be a spoiler to reveal that not all is well in paradise, and some issues affect their relationship. Against the guidelines Sara created, Nelson pursues a new job with a different firm. We also find out that Sara may have some concerns of her own.
At its heart, Sweet November is nothing more than a weepy romance from the Love Story school, but it’s a poorly-executed one. For one, it’s steeped with so many clichés that we always know exactly where it will go. I won’t reveal the ultimate fate of the characters, but suffice it to say that few will be surprised with the movie’s progression.
Virtually all of the participants are little more than thinly-sketched stereotypes, and they never bring much to the table. Nelson’s sidekick Vince (Greg Germann) exists for no other reason than to keep his Type-A feet to the fire, while Sara’s neighbor Chaz (Jason Isaacs of The Patriot) appears because every fabulous single babe must have a gay friend, and that goes double for a film that attempts to promote the awakening of a character; what better way to show that than through his tolerance of a homosexual?
Of course, this also lets us have the wacky scene in which the gay guys dress in drag. If we believe Hollywood, there’s about five gay men who don’t like to make themselves up as women. The truth is that a minority of that population wears drag, but it’s a standard film convention that got old years ago. It does nothing for SN other than seem out of place.
Theron is moderately charming and bright as Sara; she doesn’t do much to help make the film work, but she seems decent in the role. As for Reeves, however, he’s completely out of his league in this dramatic part. Whether he’s supposed to be happy, sad, angry, or whatever, Keanu displays the same thick and flat appearance that marks most of his roles. Keanu can do the quiet, heroic thing, and he can play dippy Valley Dudes, but when any other emotional response needs to appear, he fails. While the movie probably would have been a dude anyway, Reeves ensures its failure. He’s a liability that makes the film lifeless and inert.
In any case, I really do doubt that Sweet November would have been a compelling piece of work under the best of circumstances. The tale provides a moderate twist on the dramatic romance genre, but it fails to take advantage of these changes and it sticks with a very tired plot. The acting is decent at best, but half of our lead pair actively drags down the material. To make your November - or any month - sweet, skip this clunker.
Plagiaristic note of the day: at the start of the movie, Christopher Young‘s score bears an unmistakable resemblance to the Who’s “Baba O’Riley”. In fact, the music is so similar that I thought some connection would appear; I figured the Who tune would somehow factor into the movie. Nope - the composer just lifted the theme and went to town!
Sweet November appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Those looking for flaws should leave this film disappointed, as I felt SN offered a consistently stellar visual experience.
Sharpness seemed to be very crisp and detailed. I saw no examples of softness or fuzziness during the movie, as the image always exhibited a nicely distinct and accurate presentation. I also didn’t detect any moiré effects or jagged edges, and print flaws appeared to be virtually non-existent. The flick seemed to lack any speckles, grain, grit or other concerns that might have marred this fresh and clean picture.
SN stuck with a fairly naturalistic palette, and the DVD replicated those hues with solid accuracy and dimensionality. The various earthy tones appeared to be clear and vivid, and they showed no signs of bleeding, noise or other concerns. Black levels were similarly deep and rich, and shadow detail looked exquisite. Low-light scenes came across as nicely defined, with no excessive darkness to hide the nuances. Ultimately, I was very pleased with the picture of Sweet November, as it seemed to be a terrific image from start to finish.
Although not as amazing, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sweet November also worked fine for the material. Since this was a quite drama, I didn’t anticipate much in the way of auditory activity, and the mix matched my expectations. The soundfield stayed pretty firmly anchored to the forward spectrum, as the various speakers didn’t receive much of a workout. The score provided fairly solid stereo separation, and a mild buzz of ambient effects also accompanied the piece. At times I heard cars that drove from one side to another, and a thunderstorm added a gentle but convincing dimension, but most of the effects restricted themselves to light atmosphere.
That went for surround usage as well. The rear speakers contributed to the overall package in a quiet way that mildly bolstered the forward action. Even during the thunderstorm, the imagery remained very modest; the effects never became a very prominent part of the story. Really, I can’t complain about that because this wasn’t the kind of film that needed flashy effects.
Audio quality seemed to be very solid. Dialogue sounded natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was clear and smooth, as the quiet score provided fine fidelity and depth, though it never exactly taxed the limits of my system. Similar thoughts regarded the effects, which were modest but accurate, and they showed appropriate bass response for their limited strength; even the loudest elements never became prominent enough to wake up my receiver or speakers. In any case, the subdued soundtrack matched the quiet film, and I thought that within those parameters the audio of Sweet November worked acceptably well.
A few supplements round out this package. The most significant addition is a short documentary called Sweet November: From the Heart. This featurette appears in the Studio Extras department of the DVD, and it offers a nine-minute and 40-second look at the movie. It combines the standard mix of film clips, shots from the set, and interview snippets with principals; we hear from director Pat O’Connor, producer Deborah Aal, and actors Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Jason Isaacs, Greg Germann and Liam Aiken.
Although “From the Heart” was a fairly puffy and promotional program, I thought it was a little better than the average fare. The actors provided a decent look at their characters, and that added a little depth to the piece. However, don’t let this description lead you to believe this will be a rich discussion of matters; it remained a show that firmly tried to lure viewers into seats. Due to that emphasis, it seemed odd to witness the many spoilers found in the featurette; you definitely shouldn’t watch “From the Heart” until after you’ve seen Sweet November.
Lastly, we find the movie’s theatrical trailer plus Cast/Filmmaker Profiles. All those include are filmographies for Reeves, Theron and O’Connor. In traditional Warner Bros. fashion, other participants are listed on the screen, but you can’t access details about them.
I never saw the original 1968 version of Sweet November, but it has to be superior to the 2001 remake. This was a consistently flat and uninteresting film that offered almost no worthwhile factors. However, the DVD provided a terrific visual experience, and the sound was subdued but clear and accurate, but the disc lacked any substantial supplements. Ultimately, already-established fans of Sweet November should be very pleased with the DVD, but if you don’t belong to that club, I’d strongly recommend that you skip this dud.