“A Friend Takes the Month Off”
by Scott Mantz

Courteney Cox, James Le Gros
Directed by Greg Harrison

It’s deja-vu all over again! Courteney Cox re-lives a traumatic experience in “November”

With TV’s “Friends” coming to an end after its groundbreaking 10-year run, there’s no doubt that Jennifer Aniston is the front-runner for big screen success, thanks to her critically-acclaimed turn in “The Good Girl” and box office hits like “Bruce Almighty” and “Along Came Polly”. The jury is still out on the rest of her co-stars, although Courteney Cox has already fared pretty well with the “Scream” trilogy under her belt. The rest of her resume has been spotty at best, ranging from hits like “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” to misses like “3,000 Miles to Graceland.”

In the meantime, Cox makes a serious bid for independent credibility with the haunting psychological thriller “November.” Shot digitally on a shoestring budget of only $300,000 (chump-change compared to Cox’s yearly take-home pay for a full season of “Friends”), this suspenseful experiment is sure to frustrate mainstream moviegoers looking for an instant payoff. All others patient enough to give the film a chance will be rewarded with a non-linear, challenging cinematic experience that will linger in your subconscious for at least a month.

After her boyfriend (James Le Gros) is killed during a convenience store robbery, Los Angeles photographer Sophie Jacobs (Courteney Cox) struggles to cope with her grief and move on with her life. Fantasy and reality become blurred when she experiences painful headaches, bizarre hallucinations and horrific flashbacks that force her to re-live the devastating night over and over again – each culminating with different results. The more Sophie struggles to put the pieces of this strange puzzle together, the more she realizes the true outcome of her fate on that dreadful evening.

After hitting the right notes with festival moviegoers with “Groove” four years ago, director Greg Harrison returns to Sundance with a meditative study that can best be described as a cross between mind-benders like “Donnie Darko,” “Lost Highway” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” To that extent, “November” is not for everybody. The pacing is extremely intense, the cinematography is very dark, and the film gets more confusing as it goes along. With so much to absorb, a second viewing is almost mandatory and probably more rewarding, since you’ll know what to look for.

The problem is that as ambitious as “November” is, it may be too arty for it’s own good. The intensity drags on to a frustrating degree, making the film’s brief running time of only 75 minutes feel more like 2 hours. There are also certain scenes that feel contrived, pretentious and staged without adding any real depth to the story, and by the time the film reaches it’s inevitable conclusion, the payoff doesn’t feel grand enough to justify the high level of commitment that it took to get there.

Being a cast member of one of the most famous sitcoms in television history may carry a lot of weight, but Courteney Cox does an amazing job with a searing performance that depicts her character’s confused, depressed and grievous state. James Le Gros is also effective as Cox’s doomed boyfriend, while Anne Archer and Nora Dunn put in strong supporting roles as Cox’s mother and therapist respectively.

“November” may have been right at home with hard-core movie buffs at the Sundance Film Festival, but it’s highly unlikely that it will find much of an audience beyond its release to art house theaters later this year. Then again, that’s probably the point. “November” is a challenging piece of work that will spark heated debate among targeted movie patrons who can appreciate this kind of challenging fare, and that makes it an engrossing cinematic experience for any month of the year.