Review: ‘Love Sarah,’ starring Celia Imrie, Shannon Tarbet, Shelley Conn, Rupert Penry-Jones and Bill Paterson

February 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celia Imrie, Shannon Tarbet and Shelley Conn in “Love Sarah” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Love Sarah”

Directed by Eliza Schroeder

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the dramedy film “Love Sarah” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some people of Indian, Latino, African and Japanese heritage) representing the middle-class and the working-class.

Culture Clash: A rising-star pastry chef dies before launching a bakery business, but her best friend, 19-year-old daughter and estranged mother decide to band together and open the bakery in her memory.

Culture Audience: “Love Sarah” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching sentimental and harmless dramas.

Shelley Conn and Rupert Penry-Jones in “Love Sarah” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

It might be a good idea not to watch “Love Sarah” when you’re hungry. The delectable pastries that are on display throughout this comedy/drama movie are among the highlights of this good-natured but ultimately bland and predictable story. However, the acting performances are watchable, and the movie has its heart in the right place, so it can be recommended viewing for anyone who’s in the mood for an uplifting story about forgiveness and following dreams.

Directed by Eliza Schroeder and written by Jake Brunger, “Love Sarah” starts off with the heartbreak of three very different London women whose lives have been shaken up by the death of a loved one named Sarah Curachi. On the day that she died, Sarah (played by Candice Brown), who’s in her late 30s, is shown riding her bicycle on her way to the empty storefront that she has rented in Notting Hill with her best friend Isabella (played by Shelley Conn), who’s about the same age as Sarah. Isabella is waiting outside impatiently because Sarah is late.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s mother Mimi Curachi (played by Celia Imrie), a retired circus owner/performer who lives by herself, is writing a letter of apology to someone who’s obviously her daughter. Viewers find out later that the letter was supposed to be sent to Sarah, who is Mimi’s only child.

Sarah is a single mother to a 19-year-old aspiring ballet dancer named Clarissa Curachi (played by Shannon Tarbet), who sometimes goes by the nickname Lari. Clarissa is a bit of a rebel because even though she’s training to be a dancer, she regularly smokes marijuana and she’s irresponsible with money.

It’s not shown in the movie, but Sarah was accidentally hit by a car, so she never made it to the storefront that day. Sarah and Isabella, who went to culinary school together, were renting the space with plans to open a bakery. The movie shows how the three most important people in Sarah’s life cope with her death.

After Sarah’s death, Isabella is shown in a distressed meeting with a leasing agent named Clive (played by Andrew Davis). Isabella is upset because, as a co-signer on the lease, she’s still responsible for paying the rent. Sarah was the star chef in this business partnership. (Sarah was good enough to train with celebrity chef Ottolenghi, as Isabella mentions in the meeting.) Because Sarah died, the bakery’s investors pulled out of the business.

Isabella (who quit her job as an investment banker) has been draining her savings to pay the rent. Despite a lot of pleading, the landlord won’t let Isabella out of the lease until another renter can take over the lease. Isabella decides it’s up to her to find another renter. The rental space, which is unfurnished and run-down, is definitely a “fixer upper” that had been vacant for quite some time before Sarah and Isabella rented it. Therefore, it’s going to be a big challenge to find someone else to take over the lease.

Meanwhile, Clarissa is also going through some tough times. She’s grieving over her mother’s death and hasn’t been able to concentrate in her dance classes. One night, her live-in boyfriend Alex (played by Max Parker), who’s also a dancer in the same class, tells Clarissa that their relationship isn’t working anymore, and he breaks up with her. Apparently, Clarissa’s name was not on the lease, because Clarissa is the one who has to move out.

With nowhere to go, Clarissa breaks into the storefront and spends the night there. The next morning, she’s about to be possibly arrested by the police, who were notified that there was a break-in. Isabella is there with two cops when she notices that Clarissa is sleeping on the floor. Isabella tells the cops that she knows Clarissa and can vouch for her, so the police officers leave.

An embarrassed Clarissa tells Isabella that she’s homeless because of the break-up with Alex. Isabella says that Clarissa can temporarily stay at Isabella’s place, but Clarissa declines the offer because she knows that Isabella’s home is so small that the only place that Clarissa would be able to sleep is on the couch. Clarissa tells Isabella that there’s only one other person she can ask for a place to stay. They both know who it is, and they both are reluctant to be in contact with her.

Sarah’s mother Mimi had been estranged from Sarah when Sarah died. That estrangement also extended to Clarissa, who has been avoiding seeing her grandmother for about a year or more, according to the inevitable conversation that Clarissa has later with Mimi. The movie shows Mimi grieving by avoiding spending time with her friends who invite her to social outings, and by spending time alone at home watching old film footage of herself when she used to be a trapeze artist in the circus.

What did Mimi do that was so awful that her daughter and granddaughter didn’t want to be in contact with her? The answer is revealed later in the movie. And what Mimi did is not as bad as you might think it is.

However, there are other hints in the story that Mimi’s fractured relationship with Sarah had been a problem for years. As the owner of a circus, Mimi often had to travel, and Sarah felt neglected when she was growing up. Mimi also has a prickly and overly judgmental personality that makes it hard for people to get close to her. Sarah’s father is not mentioned in the story, but it’s implied that Mimi was a single mother when she raised Sarah.

Sarah repeated the same pattern, by raising Clarissa as a single mother with no father around to help. The identity of Clarissa’s biological father becomes a subplot to this movie. After Sarah’s death, Clarissa is shown looking at her own birth certificate and seeing that the space for the father’s name has the word “unknown.”

It’s not a surprise to Clarissa, because she’s apparently been told all of her life that her biological father wasn’t going to be a part of her life. But now that Sarah has died, Clarissa wants to find out who her father is. Isabella mentions to Clarissa that Sarah always told her that Clarissa’s father was someone whom Sarah barely knew. Sarah wasn’t even sure what his name was.

Isabella has gone back to her investment job, working in a corporate office. Her heart isn’t in it, but she needs the money. And as fate would have it, Isabella has found another renter for the storefront. It’s a man who wants to turn the space into a wine bar. But lo and behold, shortly before Isabella is about to close this deal to sign over the lease to someone else, Clarissa shows up at Isabella’s office and begs her not to give up on the bakery.

Isabella is practical and tells Clarissa that she can’t afford to launch the bakery. Clarissa tells Isabella that she knows how to get the money to launch the business. And that leads to the inevitable scene where Clarissa reunites with Mimi. At first, Mimi is wary of Clarissa’s sudden reappearance in her life. And Mimi correctly guesses that what Clarissa wants from Mimi has something to do with money.

However, Clarissa is able to convince Mimi to invest in the bakery because she says it will be a way to honor Sarah. They decide to call the bakery Love Sarah. And the next thing you know—in the unrealistic way that movies conjure up ultra-convenient scenarios—Clarissa, Mimi and Isabella suddenly have the skills work on Love Sarah’s interior design and construction together. The first time that Clarissa takes Mimi to the dilapidated storefront, she says excitedly, “You can definitely see its potential.” Mimi quips in response, “What, as a crack den?”

Because a movie like this usually likes to have some romance as part of the story, there are two men who each end up becoming a potential love interest—one for Isabella, and the other for Mimi. There’s the predictable trope of the men making the first move, and the women playing hard to get, but we all know how these storylines are going to end.

Mathew Gregory (played by Rupert Penry-Jones) was a culinary school classmate of Sarah’s and Isabella’s. He suddenly shows up at Love Sarah one day and says he’s no longer working as a chef of a two-star Michelin restaurant. He also announces to Isabella that he wants to be a chef with her at the bakery. Isabella isn’t very happy to see Mathew because he used to date Sarah in their culinary school days, but he cheated on Sarah, so the relationship ended. Therefore, Isabella has a hard time trusting Mathew.

Sarah, Mathew and Isabella went to culinary school 20 years ago. Clarissa knows that the timeline of when Sarah and Mathew dated matches the timeline of when Clarissa could have been conceived. Mathew knows it too, so there’s some drama over a DNA test that results in Clarissa finding out whether or not Mathew is her biological father. However, Clarissa isn’t the only reason why Mathew wants to work at the bakery.

Mimi catches the eye of a man named Felix (played by Bill Paterson), who’s around the same age as she is. He lives in a building that’s directly across the street from the bakery. Mimi first notices Felix looking out his window at her while she’s at the bakery. After the bakery opens, Felix stops by and introduces himself as an inventor.

Felix is a little bit of an eccentric, and he tells Mimi, Isabella and Clarissa (who are all working at Love Sarah) that he’s invented a top-notch security system. Felix offers his services to install the security system because he says there have been break-ins and burglaries in the area. But it’s pretty obvious from the way he acts (he makes it known that he’s single and available) that the security system is just an excuse to try to get to know Mimi better. It should come as no surprise that she eventually warms up to his attention.

“Love Sarah” has a few very corny moments, such as when the spirit of Sarah is seen looking into the bakery and smiling at all the activity taking place. Fortunately, this ghostly appearance is only fleeting, because the last thing this movie needed was to turn into a “Ghost” ripoff, with Sarah appearing reincarnated in the bakery kitchen to guide the chefs in making the pastries. There’s also a very formulaic plot development where a would-be couple gets together, then has a falling out over a lie/misunderstanding, and then the person who feels betrayed has to decide if the other person deserves another chance.

All of the actors play their roles solidly and convincingly, but this movie isn’t going to win any awards. Some parts of the movie drag in a sluggish manner, so the pacing would’ve improved with better dialogue and more interesting things happening in the bakery. And there are some antics that Mathew does that are a little ridiculous and borderline stalker-ish, in his attempt to impress someone in the story.

Another flaw is how the movie clumsily handles Clarissa’s dreams of becoming a dancer. Clarissa’s work to become a professional dancer is shown in the beginning of the movie as a big part of her identity. And then, she’s not shown dancing at all when she decides to work full-time in the bakery. It’s as if the movie doesn’t want to explain how she handled not being in dance classes anymore because she had to be at Love Sarah. It’s not until the end of the movie that Clarissa’s identity as a dancer is hastily brought back up again, almost as an afterthought.

“Love Sarah” has a lot of sentimentality, but it isn’t a completely squeaky-clean movie, since there’s some occasional cursing in the film. For people interested in an overall feel-good movie, “Love Sarah” is a pleasant diversion. And it’s sure to delight foodies who love pastries because there’s an enticing variety that’s on display.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Love Sarah” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on January 15, 2021.

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