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Movie Review

It’s Dharma & Greg with a twist. It’s Autumn in New York in San Francisco. There’s even a Stuart Little-style toy boat race. Not that Sweet November even tries to be original. It was first done as a movie in 1968. Reeves plays Nelson Moss, a driven, nails-bitten-down-to-the-quick business man who can’t sit still for even a second. His whole life revolves around scoring the next deal, winning over the big client, making money and making it fast. Charlize Theron’s Sara Deever is his exact opposite. "Moonbeam," Nelson calls her once. She’s earthy. She’s patient. She’s a vegetarian. She wears sandals. And she’s quirky. Every month she beds a new guy, lives with him, loves him and makes him her special little project. If he’s too shy, she build’s up his self-confidence. If he’s too bossy, she takes the edge off. If he’s too busy, she brings him down a notch. Nelson is November.

positive elements: Sara has this "live every moment to the fullest" thing down pat. She thrives on walking the dogs on the beach. Meandering through the park. Smelling the roses. Her obsession with living in the moment contrasts poignantly with Nelson’s constant grasping for the future. There’s a lot to learn from her attention to humanity, her love of simplicity and her desire for tranquility. In addition, Nelson reaches out to a neighborhood boy who doesn’t have a father. He fills in as his "dad" for a school father/son day and generally befriends the adoring child. Nelson also makes some key decisions that show that he’s finally growing up. He chooses civility and kindness over bawdiness and hurtful words. And he makes great strides in reinventing his disheveled life. He also encourages Sara to "make up" with her emotionally distant family, referring to healing family wounds as a "good tradition." Script writers include a subtle nod to the idea that media violence has become a "tranquilizer" to the masses.

sexual content: Keanu Reeves was steamed that Warner Bros. cut out parts of the sex scenes he acted out with Charlize Theron. "We shot them, but the studio want[ed] to make a PG-13 film, so it’s all been cut down," he complained. That doesn’t mean, however, that Sweet November isn’t obsessed with sex. The film opens with a shot of a naked Nelson getting up out of bed with his current live-in girlfriend (her bare backside is shown before she dons panties and a bra). Then, he and Sara hop into bed on literally a moment’s notice. They don’t even like each other all that much in the beginning, but they’re more than eager to consummate their fledgling relationship. Several times in subsequent scenes, the two get tangled up together, in the bed and in the tub. Sara’s best friend is an openly cross-dressing gay man, who provides both wise advise and unconditional love throughout the story. He and his boyfriend are shown wearing sequined gowns at a dinner party. He’s unperturbed after barging in on Nelson and Sara while the two are bathing together. After Nelson realizes that Sara trades in her lovers every month, she jokes with him, asking if he'd prefer she were a virgin. The couple also jokes about being "aroused" by sadomasochism and group sex.

violent content: Very little. Nelson takes a swing at a shelf full of award statues (he cuts his hand in the process). Vince grabs Nelson and shakes him. Upset and sobbing, Sara throws things at Nelson and halfheartedly flails her fists against his chest. A near-brawl breaks out at Nelson’s office.

crude or profane language: A handful of s-words cap about 40 profanities, many of which are misuses of the Lord’s name.

drug and alcohol content: Nelson and Sara drink wine and beer. Other scenes feature social drinking.

other negative content: Sara breaks into what presumably is a scientific laboratory and steals several dogs. It’s clear within the context of the story that she’s been in the habit of freeing captive animals on a regular basis. She jokes about her activities being "heinous crimes," but no negative judgments are made by the filmmakers. In fact, Sara is affirmed for being an animal lover who can’t bear to see "pets" utilized for experiments.

Nelson is given to cheating in order to get ahead. He even tries to cheat on a DMV test. He also rigs a boat race so that his young buddy Abner wins. Even worse, it is implied that cross-dressing can be a good stress-reliever and help people deal with the complexities of a fast-paced life. In other words, deviant sexual behavior can serve the same positive personal benefit as a hobby.

conclusion:"You don’t need to understand me," Sara tells Nelson and throngs of moviegoers. "You just need to let it happen." Bad advice. Sweet November succeeds in communicating the idea that a cold, ruthless, soulless existence is no way to live. But it fails miserably in matters of the heart. Sara and Nelson both hop for love affair to love affair. Neither has any clue of what true love is. I have to ruin part of the ending here and deal with the way Sara and Nelson give up the possibility of lifelong "true love" in favor of keeping the memory of early passions untarnished. Driven by Sara, the two part ways rather than let the realities of life—and death—intrude on the "perfectness" of what they experienced together in the month of November. That’s a message that’s not only hard to swallow, but dangerous for teens struggling to make sense out of budding romances. The truth of the matter is, love is what happens when a man and a woman battle against the currents of life, committing themselves to each other for better or for worse, not what happens in bed on the first date. Sweet November forgot that.

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