Sweet November

I should say that I have not seen the original film of 1968 which inspired
the remake of Sweet November, written by Kurt Voelker and directed by Pat
O’Connor. But I have seen so many
films so much like it — admittedly not
many of them recently — that the remake
looks very familiar indeed. Though set in the present day, it has about it the
authentic musty smell of the 1960s, a decade in which it was possible to enjoy a
certain amount of theatrical success merely by having your hero tell off his
boss, or not wear a suit to work one day. The national obsession with
dating back to the 1950s and the myth of the
man,” ultimately produced a succession
of cinematic free spirits in movies from Breakfast at
to Easy
, from A Hard
Day’s Night
to A
Thousand Clowns
, who were the harbingers of that herd of non-conformists
gathering, by the end of the decade, at Woodstock. Or the Pentagon.

The Holly Golightly type who educates the up-tight, sober, workaholic hero
with the help of an eccentric
gentleman — or
lady — who lives
upstairs — or downstairs — was a
remarkably adaptable figure. Even Jane Fonda got to play her, to Robert
Redford’s up-tight lawyer, in Neil
Simon’s Barefoot in the Park.
Simon, however, as entertainer-in-chief to the bourgeoisie, made them a chastely
married odd-couple. Usually the woman with the free spirit was also free with
her sexual favors, and the title of Sweet November referred to its
heroine’s endearing habit of taking a
new lover every month. The original featured Sandy Dennis in the role, that of
the “partly woman but mostly
child” Sara Deever, and Anthony Newley
as her devoted November.

Miss Dennis (she died in 1992) was an actress whose entire career, which
pretty much petered out after 1970, depended on her playing similar roles. She
had that fragile, waif-like appearance that seemed sexy for a brief period in
the 1960s (think of Twiggy). The remake gives us the strapping South African
lass, Charlize Theron, as this lovable gamine while the wooden Keanu Reeves
plays Mr Uptight, the man who comes to joyous, uninhibited life under her
guidance. And that is to say nothing of super-butch Jason Isaacs, the
unforgettable British bad-guy in Mel
Gibson’s The Patriot, who has
been pressed into service as the eccentric gentleman and life-adviser who lives
downstairs. Naturally, as this is San Francisco, this person is a drag

If these casting decisions sound like good ideas to you then by all means go
see this movie. And stop reading this review. Not only will I have nothing more
to say to you, but I mean to reveal the ending, since it provides the only
insight into what the film’s creators
might have thought they were doing by such eccentric casting. For there has been
a subtle change in the 60s message. Then it was: be free, do what you want, live
selfishly, since nobody can tell you what to do without your permission.
Nowadays this insane but once-persuasive counsel would presumably go down less
well, so it has become something more like an innocuous exhortation to make more
time in your busy schedule for loved ones and to be nicer to people at work. And
animals. And drag queens.

Well, who can argue with that? The fact is that contemporary audiences
don’t want to be told to change their
lives in any really radical way. That fancy-dressed, quit-your-job 1960s-vintage
Bohemianism won’t play so well today,
though American Beauty had a rather successful go at reviving it in
another form. It’s OK for Sara for the
same reason it was for the hero of American Beauty — because (as we
find out near the end) she is about to die. She is therefore not just a free
spirit, taking up a new
as her lover every month, but someone who is herself trying to get the most out
of life before snuffing it from cancer. And her final gift to poor
Keanu — with whom, of course, she has
fallen in love as he has with her — is
to send him back to his world of advertising and lattes and workouts with
nothing but a memory. “If you leave
now,” she bravely tells him, meaning
before she is helpless and bed-ridden,
“everything will be perfect

“Life isn’t
perfect,” says Keanu, reasonably

“All we have is how you remember
me: you’re my
immortality,” she persists, clinching
her case by saying: “I need this. .
.just like I need to know that you’ll go on and have a beautiful
life.” And so, amazingly, Keanu turns
his back on her to return to his
life” of advertising and lattes and
workouts, which is presumably even more beautiful now that, thanks to her, he is
not such an a******e. It is, in other words, a movie whose paean to the virtue
of selfishness — a selfishness, of
course, only of the
sort — is further exalted by another to the virtue of cowardice. For those
who like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they will like.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts