Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sweet November.

Sweet November (Pat O’Connor, 2001)

You asked for it, team. It’s the winner of the first ever Taste My Sad poll! All this was actually super dramatic: as FOTB Pat Ambrosio said, “This was Keanu's greatest comeback since the 4th quarter of that game against Dallas in The Replacements.” (Pain heals. Chicks dig scars.) The tiebreaking vote was cast by FOTB Steve Isaac with just two minutes left! Here is his reaction to this event:


Truly a memorable moment.

Category: Sad Keanu Reeves film. Cheer up, Keanu! (More of these to come, by the way. The FsOTB are CLAMORING for more Keanu coverage.)

Obviously, Sweet November can be classified as a sad month-related movie. Thanksgiving notwithstanding, November is generally a pretty sad month. Autumn is one of the better seasons, in my view, and November is when it starts to wrap up and get nippy out. And I hate things that are nippy: chilly weather, pesky dogs, joints or blunts that contain three parts high-quality marijuana and one part pure rock cocaine. (Nippies destroyed Whitney and Bobby’s marriage!) Also, as noted in the blog poll post, Sweet November features Charlize Theron as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Sad MPDG films are generally more rare than happy MPDG films, as the whole point of the MPDG is to make things happy and unpredictable. (And dreamy.) But sometimes the MPDG is so carefree because she’s hiding a deep dark secret, which is almost always cancer. Let’s see if that’s the case in this film.

My familiarity with this issue: As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “People love lists.” Here, then, for no other reason, is a list of my favorite things that include the names of the months:
  • January Jones. Ohhhhh Betty.
  • There’s really very little out there for February. Which makes sense: so short, so unsure of how many days it has. It even made Don McLean shiver! What a terrible month. Febtober is much better.
  • John Philip Sousa, the March King. The original Toby Keith. Except Sousa was (presumably) less racist.
  • April from “Parks and Recreation.” A close second is the song “April Come She Will” by Simon & Garfunkel, which was the song they used when she and Andy got married! #connections #awwwwwwwww
  • Brian May, guitarist for Queen/ASTROPHYSICIST. That’s extraordinarily impressive. Let’s see Stephen Hawking play the solo from “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
  • Junebug, featuring an Oscar-nominated Amy Adams before she was real famous. Highly recommended/SAD.
  • “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by Bruce Springsteen. Makes me want to learn the accordion, and visit the pre-reality show Jersey shore.
  • Pernilla August, the actress who played the Virgin Mary Shmi Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. Say what you will about the overall quality of the prequels, but the scene in which Shmi explains Anakin’s miraculous midichlorian-assisted birth is just top-notch cinema.
  • “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire. A go-to song for wedding/bar mitzvah DJs. (Not THE go-to song, though. Stay tuned.)
  • October Sky. This is one of my all-time favorite movies. This film accounts for the vast majority of the “love” portion of my love-hate relationship with the state of West Virginia. So good.
  • “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses. That solo’s really long, but it’s a pretty song.
  • “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by the Four Seasons. THE go-to song, for anyone worth their salt in the DJing game.
That was worthwhile.

The MPDG thing is not my favorite, of course, as I value realism (and people being unaware of each other’s true identities) in my romantic films. I’ve met many girls who are very nice and sweet, even manic, but I’ve never once felt as if they were created to “teach broodingly soulful young men [i.e., me] to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” I can’t help but feel that the concept is inherently insulting to women, who can do so many more things than teach men about life (cooking and having children, to name but two). And it’s insulting to men, who are perfectly capable of embracing life and its infinite etc. on their own. Or with realistic, unmanic girls.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Nelson is a man devoted to his advertising career in San Francisco. One day, while taking a driving test at the DMV, he meets Sara. She is very different from the other women in his life. Nelson causes her to miss out on taking the test and later that day she tracks him down. One thing leads to another and Nelson ends up living with her through a November that will change his life forever.”

What I thought about the movie: I didn’t even get thirty seconds into this shit before saying, aloud, to myself, “Oh God it’s gonna be one of those movies.” And even then I had no idea.

The movie opens with Keanu doing the do with Lauren Graham as his alarm goes off at 7 AM, then arising (in the nude), showering and grunting pump-up mantras to himself: “Top dog, big dog, bad dog.” I just want you all to take a second and picture a naked Keanu Reeves pacing around his fancy apartment muttering to himself. Imagine you're seeing this movie on a date, just settling down into your seats before it starts, and then BOOM. That. And not only that: after his shower, he picks up a remote control and turns on the ten television sets in his kitchen all at once, while also calling his deputy (played by That Guy from Ally McBeal) and barking out commands about some account at his Important Advertising Job, while also Lauren Graham exhorts him to slow down and stop working so hard so they can Talk About Us. It was ten minutes before I remembered who I was and what I was doing. This movie blindsides you with crazy.

We learn that Keanu is a sort of modern-day Don Draper, except without all the awesomeness. As such, he has to go to the DMV to take a written exam to keep his driver’s license. Which really shouldn’t be that hard of a test, all things considered. But for Keanu, it’s so hard that, just seconds into the test, he tries to get Charlize Theron (who had shuffled into the test room holding bagfuls of groceries that she immediately spilled all over the floor, which is totally not a cliché) to help him cheat. It’s not the LSATs, Chuck. The red octagon is a stop sign. And so obviously the proctor catches this and dismisses her for cheating. Not him, just her. First of all, what is this, middle school? I half-expected the other scofflaws to go “ooooooo” as she walked up to the front of the room. Second of all, she does not say, “hey, this haircut over here tried to cheat off my test, which is ridiculous because not only is this a driving test, but it was a TRUE/FALSE question, so why don't you kick him out.” 

But this is all because she has a secret plan: to stalk him and guilt him into driving her to break into this building and steal a bunch of puppies wait seriously what is going on in this movie. (The tossed-off explanation has something to do with cruel animal experiments. This incident is not mentioned again in the movie. I am serious.) 

Without really batting an eye, he drives her home post-robbery. She discerns that his singular devotion to his work is unhealthy, and says, as if reading from the MPDG Wikipedia page: “I have a gift, a special ability to help men with problems.” So she offers to have him move in with her for one month so she can do so. He declines, as is the natural reaction to an unstable criminal propositioning you.

But wait now, here’s the other thing: Keanu is actually spectacularly bad at his job. His pitch to the Dr. Diggity Dog hot dog company was like drunk Don Draper plus petulant bitchfaced Pete Campbell multiplied by Freddy “The Pants-Wetting Drunk” Rumsen in its flagrant awfulness, and his crazy reaction to the hot dog folks’ understandable rejection of the pitch gets him fired. (Lauren Graham leaves him too, which was to be expected.) And so he’s more amenable the second time around to Charlize’s crazy advances. He’s kind of rapey, at first, and when she tells him to slow down he freaks out and leaves, but then comes back. It’s a largely pointless sequence, and actually pretty creepy.

So the conceit here is that she has a different guy every month that she “fixes,” and he is her (sweet) November. The slutty nature of this arrangement aside, there are a lot of questions here. At what point in each month does she start scouting for new dudes? Does she have a Rolodex of possibilities? What if she meets someone on, say, the tenth of the month, and he wants to start right away? Does she make him wait three weeks? Does she do the same stuff with them every month? She eventually answers some of these questions, but the point is that it’s a dumb, unrealistic, stupid gimmick, the kind of thing that makes people hate romantic comedies.

Oh also: the kid from Stepmom is in this. Because of course he is. He plays (Li’l) Abner, an outcast who gets made fun by the other kids of at a remote control boat race (which is weird, as the bullies are themselves taking part in a remote control boat race). This scene is really dumb too, by the way, because Keanu decided to bribe a guy with a magnetic submarine (?) to help him cheat and let Abner win. The point is that Keanu still has much to learn about being virtuous from Charlize, no matter how good his intentions are and all that, but it’s just dumb. Abner shows up a few more times later in the film, for about as little reason as he showed up in this scene.

So now at this point in the movie, we're asked to forget about the fact that Keanu sucks and Charlize is crazypants, and just accept the fact that they get along like two peas in a completely ludicrous and unbelievable pod. And this is when the movie gets boring: it settles into him falling in love with her and her having cancer (KNEW IT) and not telling him. (Of course this means that she has that kind of cancer that only exists in the movies, where you can run around and go crazy and not show any symptoms until the plot requires you to.) They fill time with a subplot about Lucius Malfoy Jason Isaacs, the downstairs neighbor who is also a transvestite. (Keanu is really weirded out by this, despite the fact that he lives in SAN FRANCISCO.) Keanu tries to get a job again, but then doesn't because of his new principles and non-workaholic status. The movie presents us with a strange dichotomy: basically, that you can either have a job or have a girlfriend. Clearly it favors the latter, as if the only happy people out there are attached and homeless.

So Keanu fully rejects his former life as a successful person and asks her to marry him, and she says no, what with her stupid rules and concealed cancer. He finally finds out about her secret cabinet of cancer pill bottles, which she then throws at him angrily, because, I don't know, he wasn’t supposed to find out? Either way, don't do that! It's important to keep those pill bottles organized! The whole thing is pretty selfish of someone who, for the entire movie, claims to be doing this all for his benefit. It's a facet of the movie, like many others, that fails to make sense when you think about it for more than three seconds. The movie tries to explain this away in a scene where Keanu talks to Tranny Lucius Malfoy at a bar about all of it, but it still doesn’t work. (By the way, you guys should come see my new glam-thrash-Britpop fusion trio, Tranny Lucius Malfoy. We’re performing at Lezkaban next Friday.)

If I cared at all about the actual characters in this ludicrous movie, I would probably have been really, really mad at how it ended. Basically, the movie acquiesces to her stupid life philosophy: even though he loves her and does all kinds of nice things to try to change her mind, he’s not allowed to be with her as she dies because his month is up. (Technically she’s going to see her family, who she hasn’t seen in forever, or something, and she's not just starting a new month with a new random dude.) But of course the ending doesn’t really matter. At heart this is a movie about people keeping arbitrary secrets and setting arbitrary rules, and so I wasn't really invested in any of it. But good Lord was it crazy.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: There is a scene in this movie where Keanu Reeves sprints on a treadmill while watching his ten televisions at once, all of which seem to be playing a bunch of different commercials on a loop. None of them are showing any actual programming. I watched this part three times. I was completely transfixed. I really don't know what else to say about it right now, except that it changed my life.

That’s not the only thing in the movie that's ludicrous and ill-conceived. The song “Only Time” by Enya is played TWICE. TWO TIMES. Keanu Reeves is asked to deliver the line, “You’re a very sexy, smart, interesting, somewhat unusual woman.” (The dialogue in this movie is unreal, by the way.) There is a scene in which Charlize, who by the way has INCURABLE CANCER, runs around on a beach with a bunch of dogs and does CARTWHEELS. I could go on and on with this, and yet the last forty-five minutes just about put me to sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie vacillate so violently between insanity and banality.

How I felt after the movie ended: At the beginning of the movie, we are presented with two main characters: one who is thoroughly unlikable and the other who is borderline mentally ill. (MR F.) But the characters in the movie, for the most part, don’t worry about that. It’s one of those movies where characters grant the premise WAY too easily. The phrase “you’re actually serious about this, aren’t you?” is uttered. Not, “get away from me you freak, I’m calling the police,” which would be the more realistic reaction to nearly everything that Charlize does in the first half hour of the movie.

Charlize’s dumb rationale for leaving him at the end of the film is as follows: “All we have is how you remember me.” It’s true of my relationship with this movie, too. If I hadn’t written all of this down during the movie, I might have forgotten about how awesomely weird/awful the beginning of the movie was. Thankfully I did. And so my lasting memory of Sweet November will not be the really dumb ending, but rather Keanu running on that treadmill, staring at those ten TVs, at once embodying utter nonsense and complete epistemological Truth. Whoa.


  1. Your intention with this post was probably not to make me want to see this movie, but LUCIUS MALFOY PLAYS TRANS?! This is actually the most exciting news I've heard in a long time.

  2. Jefferson Allen TibbsMay 10, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Keanu will return in Taste My Sad: Hardball

  3. Did you ever see the original, 1968 version of the movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063661/)? I never saw it, but would like to know how true the remake is to the original script/plot.

  4. I have not seen the original. I can't imagine it's nearly as crazy.

  5. Wow, this movie sounds bad. But I LOVED your sneaky Regina Spektor reference while mentioning "November Rain." So, points for that.

  6. i saw the movie and i did not find it good at all.. i thought it had a good promise at the beginning but when things turned to cancer part, the movie started to get suck. I just figured the impossibility clause portrayed in this sad movie is so painstakingly absurd that at the end of the the movie, i was asking myself "what just happened?" I was at a loss as what this movie really was.. C double minus...

  7. The content of this movie review is commendable. The plot is somehow predictable. The actors carrying out the role were really good. On the whole, the story it self was somewhat realistic, but as mentioned, a little too predictable. They can do better.