Set in the charming atmosphere of Notting Hill, London, Love Sarah tells the story of Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet). She’s a young woman grieving the sudden loss of her mother, Sarah. Left with a bakery that Sarah had purchased immediately before her accident, Clarissa enlists some people to help her. She taps her mother’s dear friend Isabella (Shelley Conn) and her grandmother Mimi (Celia Imrie) to order. She hopes that together, they can bring Sarah’s small business dream to life. However, the mysterious Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones) arrives and insists on joining the team. Isabella is apprehensive towards him and questions his motives.
Directed by Eliza Schroeder, Love Sarah is an adorably sweet film. It seems to have all the right ingredients yet it still feels half-baked. In essence, Sarah has all the warmth and charm necessary for a successful romantic comedy. But simply, it never pulls the pieces together in a way that makes a lasting impact. Coming from a debut feature script from Jake Brunger, Love Sarah features adorable characters with several noteworthy set-ups. Ironically though, its these same multiple stories that also seem to be its downfall.
Love Sarah fits a season’s worth of dramatic tension into 97 minutes. The characters here deal with grief and loss and build a business in a struggling economy. They also confront a question of paternity and multiple romantic storylines. It has many potentially interesting narratives but simply doesn’t have the time to explore them thoroughly. (Shonda Rhimes would be appalled.) As a result, the film fails to do these storylines any real justice. And the script rushes many of them or sweep them under the rug entirely.
Even so, despite its weaknesses, Sarah does feature some delightful performances that create a heartfelt and welcoming atmosphere. Star Shelley Conn gives Isabella with a self-protective edge. But she also plays her character with sweetness and has some delightful chemistry with her potential paramour, Matthew. Meanwhile, as the loveable scamp himself, Penry-Jones performs with a type of mischievous grin. It suggests he’s trustworthy but always has an ulterior motive. Anchoring the film, however, is veteran actress Celia Imrie. As Sarah’s disgruntled but loving mother Mimi, Imrie is a joy to watch onscreen. She grounds the rest of the cast with her wisdom and humor.
The film’s emphasis is on character relationships. So perhaps, it’s no surprise that this is a film that wants to speak to the power of ‘home’. Sarah’s tragic death leaves these characters feeling empty. That emptiness also exists within the broken-down bakery that they now have in their possession. They begin to work together to build their business. So too do they begin to rebuild themselves together through the power of their relationships.
For them, what was once a hollow shell of a storefront has become a home that brings them all together. (In fact, this desire to create a place of belonging even extends into their business strategy. They investigate pastries from around the world in an effort to give them a taste of ‘home’). In this way, Love Sarah recognizes the important role that safety and emotional support plays in healing. Isabella, Mimi, Clarissa and Matthew grow together in their new community. They also rediscover what it means to live vibrant lives of love in the face of tragedy. (Again, a valuable lesson for us as we process the ongoing events of 2020).
Love Sarah may satisfy those with a sweet tooth for a light rom-com. But it proves to ultimately be a forgettable experience. It has its light-hearted tone and charming characters. But there’s simply too many stories on the menu in order to feel like you’ve chosen the right meal. As a result, I don’t regret stopping by for a taste. But I don’t feel like Sarah deserves my repeat business.