We movie critics have taken our best shots at Keanu Reeves over the years, but he just keeps coming back, like a puppy who mistakes slaps for love pats. The Matrix changed everything, of course, turned Reeves into a Godlike figure for a generation that was already tapping on computer keyboards in the womb. But the good news is that, even when he's not dodging bullets in slo-mo, Reeves has found a way to hold the screen without striking poses. Paradoxically, fame seems to have humbled him. Gone is the stiff arrogance that characterized so many of his early roles. Gone, too, is a lot of the clumsiness--the Scooby-Doo lunges from one side of the frame to the other. In Sweet November, which would be unbearable without him, Reeves gives a bona fide performance, taking his character from point A (jerk) to point Z (nice guy) and hitting some smaller-case letters in between. For once, I didn't cringe while watching him. The movie's a big pile of sentimental goo--Love Story by way of Bull Durham--and I resisted it as long as I could but was finally won over by Reeves' seemingly genuine sincerity and by Charlize Theron's unforced charm. Reeves plays an award-winning adman who works 24/7. Theron is...well, she's the life force, basically, a smell-the-roses kind of gal who, for reasons of her own, changes boyfriends every month, leaving the previous ones just a little more alive than when she found them. "Would you like to be my November?" she asks Reeves. And after some rather enjoyable push-pull, he finally says yes, almost immediately detecting the faint smell of roses in the air. Unfortunately, every silver lining has a cloud, and--WARNING: MAJOR PLOT POINT ABOUT TO BE GIVEN AWAY!--Theron's can be inferred from the tired circles around her eyes.
First, Autumn in New York, now Sweet November. What's next, Christmas Is for Crying? I can't defend this movie's insistent tugging on our heartstrings. (In one of its most shameless scenes, Theron does life-affirming cartwheels on the beach.) Nor can I defend its utter lack of originality; Theron's hippie-chick boheme is about as conventionally unconventional as you can get. But the two leads are awfully easy on the eyes, and Theron seems to activate something in Reeves, rouse him from his usual slumbers. Though not likely to play Medea anytime in the near future, she's an enjoyable actress. In fact, the only thing standing between Theron and major stardom is the rather plastic perfection of her features and mannerisms. One suspects that, in real life, she's the control freak and Reeves is the messy one. And maybe that's why this piece of schmaltz works as well as it does: They're playing each other's better half.