The original Sweet November (1968) was based on a screenplay by Herman Raucher (Summer of '42) with Sandy Dennis as a Brooklyn hippie who takes in a wayward man (Anthony Newly) with the intention of setting him on the right path. An interesting premise back then and equally as bold today. What hustling, go-getter male in urban America would submit himself to a woman for an emotional make-over?
Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves) is a selfish San Francisco workaholic who devotes all of his considerable energies to his job as a hotshot ad agency wizard. He is driven by his cell phone, watch, and wall of TV monitors. His girlfriend (Lauren Graham) is just another object in his collection of things and she knows it. And his best friend Vince (Greg Germann) is a mirror image of his own worst qualities thoughtlessness, insensitivity, and greediness.
While taking a driver's test, Nelson asks a stranger, Sara Deever (Charlize Theron), for help with an answer. She's thrown out of the examination room, told not to return for a month, but she doesn't turn him in. Later, she demands that since she can't drive, Nelson should give her a ride home.
This free-spirited beauty blows into Nelson's emotionally barren life like a fresh breeze. She even makes him an odd proposition: he can move into her funky apartment for a month and let her take him under her wings. After he loses a key account, is fired from his job, and his girlfriend walks out, this bewildered soul is ready to try anything. "I have a special ability to help men with problems," Sara assures him as he moves in for the month of November.
Pat O'Connor (Dancing at Lughnasa) directs this romantic comedy that shows the transformation of an overachiever into a sensitive fellow. Nelson becomes a thoughtful lover for Sara and even serves as a surrogate dad to her ten-year-old neighbor (Liam Aiken). A brief but indelible encounter with an ad executive (Frank Langella) he once held in high esteem convinces him that being a sadist who enjoys treating people with scorn and hatred is too high a price to pay for success and fame.
Sweet November hums along nicely until it bumps up against the reason lying behind Sara's need to be in control all the time. Similar to other movies in this genre, love is treated as an emotion that can carry the day until it comes face-to-face with a really big challenge. Their relationship is revealed to be pretty superficial when it is abandoned just because things are getting difficult, painful, or ugly. This critical miscalculation about love's true power takes away some of the film's considerable emotional insights.