It is no secret that every movie is in some way formulaic or templative if you will. This is the nature of screenplays, they are simply adaptations of novels or plays or short stories. In preparation for the big screen, screenwriters chop the original literary works down to size. They are essentially literary butchers and the cutting room floor is their abattoir. Sweet November is by all measures a brilliant film based on a template.
Charlize Theron is one of those women everybody hopes to meet, and rarely does. Add to her allure the scenery of San Francisco and romance simply invites itself. Every month since she decided to abandon her family and release herself from the hospital (treatment for her Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma had failed) Sara Deever (Theron) dates a new man. The purpose of this is not only to have fun with whatever time remains, but also to establish rules and control over her final months. Enter her latest soon to be boyfriend, Nelson Moss (Reeves). Nelson is an advertising guru recently on the heels of a failed pitch to a major corporation. Feeling scorned by his girlfriend and vulnerable on account of his career setback, Moss’ and Deever’s lives collide. There is an awkward and hilarious meet cute in which she enters his Mercedes in a less than safe neighborhood to offer him directions. Somehow they develop an attraction and our romance movie begins churning cream into butter.
Moss is at first unaware of Deever’s cancer. Her unlimited cabinet of pain pills allows her to mask her terror and physical agony. Day after day they fall deeper in love as they care for a neighborhood child Abner, make love, and she introduces Nelson to new experiences in order for him to let his guard down. Meeting her gay male friends, one of whom is a former colleague of Nelson’s caused him to encounter people in an entirely new way. Instead of being elitist and closed off, Nelson’s eyes begin to open. Deever’s goodness also rubs off on him when faced with the opportunity of a lifetime. Nelson meets with Edgar Price (Frank Langella) who offers a lucrative advertising contract to the formerly money hungry marketing star. On the verge of accepting the offer, Nelson witnesses Price’s rudeness and arrogance as he demeans a waitress who begins to cry after being verbally and unnecessarily accosted. Filled perhaps with a sense of self-righteousness, or the power of Deever’s goodness, Nelson tells Price to keep his money and expresses his disdain for the man’s arrogance.
Shortly thereafter Nelson finds out the reason for Sara’s frequent fevers and flushness. She has cancer and has refused treatment. Describing the plot further would spoil the entire movie. I will say that is it incredibly sad, enhanced more so by the bittersweet Enya song "Only Time". This is one chick flick not so easily forgotten. Theron and Reeves made this picture near the beginning of their stardom. She became a sex symbol and he became a heartthrob. Kudos to both actors for their ability to channel romantic feelings, true sadness, and joy of life in any form.
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