Love Sarah begins immediately after the death of the titular character, whom we are told was a world class chef. Sarah’s partner reluctantly agrees to sell the restaurant space, and her daughter meets Sarah’s estranged mother because she has nowhere to live.
I would like you to stop for a moment and predict three things you might expect to happen in a movie with the set up described above. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
If you actually did the above exercise and are still reading, you might make it through Love Sarah since knowing what is coming next is not a deal-breaker for you. It isn’t for me, either, but in the absence of innovation or originality, one would like to see better execution.
Sarah’s mom (Celia Imrie) agrees to fund the transition of the space into a bakery. A male pastry chef brings a tender but necessary romcom presence to the struggling business. The aging matriarch connects with her granddaughter, and…
But there is not “and…”
The closest we get to an idea that is not about plot is when grandma harangues the Eastern European delivery guy about his favorite snacks. He misunderstands what she is asking, of course, so the scene nowhere has the spark of discovery or insight. There is no point in the scene, or the movie, where the audience isn’t at least a step-and-a-half ahead of the characters.
I can sort of accept the idea that grandma has never heard of half the deserts that the international community inhabiting Notting Hill crave. But the pastry chef….? Wikipedia says Notting Hill is “known for being a cosmopolitan and multicultural neighborhood,” Which makes it surprising that nobody has ever thought of specializing in international food. But then again, the Notting Hill of this movie apparently has no cookbooks or Internet either, and the can-do cooks have to improvise based on descriptions of said treats given in the broken English of the movie immigrant.
If the previous paragraph sounds like a nitpick, I can only say that it wouldn’t be half so annoying if it weren’t presented as an act of stupefying genius. It’s not that food preparation can be dramatically or artistically filmed. (Pardon me for a second while I go re-watch Big Night.) It’s not even that the idea of food preparation drawing people together is less dramatic than explosions or space explorations. (Pardon me for a second while I go re-watch Babette’s Feast.) It’s certainly not the case that grief can’t make mourners draw together for comfort.
It’s just that nothing unfolds in Love Sarah that suggests the movie is remotely curious about how these things happen or why they might move us deeply. It is apparently enough to record that they do and expect that they will.
A few weeks ago, I was surprised to give a mild endorsement to another modest, female-led (or co-led) indie: Modern Persuasion. I was hoping that Love Sarah would be similarly charming, but it ended up too safe, too middle-of-the-road. It’s competently directed, and the actors are fine. The screenplay needs work, though. Good writing is one of the most undervalued qualities in most smaller budget, modern movies. When a story is this conventional, some other aspect needs to be superlative in order to elevate the film.
Love Sarah will be available in the United States on January 15, 2021.