M, 98 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
This letter to loved ones lost begins with a young woman on a mad dash across London. Cycling past the Thames and the Eye and other familiar spaces, she is clearly running late for something.
Sarah (Candice Brown) never makes it, and we take it that she is killed in a traffic accident.
Her death, implied not shown, is a risky way to begin a film but the effective opening montage tells us all we need to know. That her daughter is an aspiring dancer, that Sarah is going into the bakery business with her good friend, and that she and her mother have been estranged for a long time.
a family drama with a seriously sweet tooth
The family tragedy will have a big impact on the lives of these loved ones. For a moment, it seems to put an end to everyone’s hopes and dreams.
Best friend, Isabella (Shelley Conn), is also a professional chef, but the point of opening a bakery together was to draw on Sarah’s star power. ‘She’s famous. She trained with Ottolenghi.’
Daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) is lost and can’t see the point in a dancing career, while Sarah’s mother Mimi (the redoubtable Celie Imrie) is full of regret for not having tried harder to connect.
The bakery premises in Portobello Road might be lost and open as a pop-up bar instead, but with financing from Mimi, something she had always intended, the venture is rescued. Clarissa, Isabella and Mimi, a trio of three generations of women, become business partners.
A professional chef, Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), who was once close to Sarah, ambles onto the scene. He can also lend his expertise.
A neighbour, Felix (Bill Paterson), an eccentric inventor who can help in his own way, takes a shine to Mimi. She is the most engaging character, with a few surprises up her sleeve, including skills from her circus background.
Together, the team hit on the idea of baking treats for the expat communities that have made their home in Notting Hill. They turn away from the home-grown – a very hard sell, after all – and pan forte, Persian love cakes, strawberry fraisiere, rollet and Latvian kringeris start appearing in the window.
Even lamingtons appear on display, for the Aussie contingent.
The new bakery becomes a ‘home away from home’, in celebration of London’s multicultural community.
Based on a story by Eliza Schroeder that connects with the passing of her mother, and written by Jake Brunker, Love Sarah has a sweetness and simplicity but the script is lacklustre. A mood of uplift takes over, but this is bolstered by the appearance of one luscious treat after another, rather than the characters.
There are enough movies around that centre on food like Babette’s Feast, Dinner Rush or Chocolat that demonstrate this foodie formula can work, but what we have hear here is more confection, a patisserie menu, than something to get the teeth into.
Notting Hill was already a well-established melting pot in 1999 when the wonderful romantic comedy with Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant and Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill, was released.
It’s impossible not to think of this huge hit, directed by Roger Michell and written by Richard Curtis, also set on Portobello Road of course. Love Sarah has none of its star power, but none of its humour either.
good intentions don’t make it any less bland
This is a family drama with a seriously sweet tooth, indulging the senses in a bourbon tart, an orange semolina number, a basbousa, or a pistachio and rosewater number.
Celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi is listed in the end credits.
My foodie tastes tend towards the savoury, but I wouldn’t knock back that Japanese cake on special order. ‘Matcha mille’, a stack of pancakes interleaved with cream and flavoured with green tea.
And I like the way Love Sarah, a first feature film from a skilled young director, shows how the loss of someone dear can spur those who were close to realise their best selves however this doesn’t make it any less bland.
Comparing Love Sarah with such a beloved romantic comedy as Notting Hill is a tough call, but the filmmakers did locate it in the same street.
Then again, a sweet nothing may be just the thing for now.
First published in the Canberra Times on 28 June 2020 and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7 MHz