Initially, and this is thanks largely to a trailer which is eager to accent the heartwarming quirkiness of it all, Love Sarah comes across a fey, souffle-light whisp of a film, the kind the British churn out (in the nicest possible way) with the polished efficiency of, well, a well-run high street bakery.
Dig down a little deeper, however, and you have a quiet, nuanced film that tackles the lingering aftereffects of grief from three distinct points of view and which offers the possibility of life beyond the death of a loved one for those who are left behind.
Sarah (Candice Brown) is a Paris-trained chef who has worked with Otto Lenghi (who is thanked in the credits for being willing to be referenced?) and who grand plans, along with fellow onetime classmate and longtime best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn), for opening a picture postcard-perfect bakery in a gorgeous if derelict shop in a slightly-rundown street somewhere in London.
In the opening scene of the film, we see Sarah, who is late for a meeting at the shop with Isabella, peddling furiously along busy streets, her phone, which is safely taped to her arm and not in use, receiving an excited congratulatory text from her daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) at the same time as her mother Mimi (Celia Imrie) is writing a peace offering of a letter to her currently estranged daughter.
It seems the stage is set for a familial coming together, the realising of a long-held dream and perhaps some renewed romance in a film which has its site, so we might think, of being a delightful slice of feel-good loveliness.
Which, frankly, given the trainwreck of a pandemic-soiled year that 2020 has been, is no bad thing.
But Love Sarah is far more than an assemblage of warmhearted, sweet and inspiring parts.
Granted the constituent elements are nothing we haven’t seen before.
We have the warring mother and daughter, the dislocated and uncertain granddaughter, the best friend and her onetime classmate and fellow chef Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), the broken down building and the anything-but-broken dreams that together will form a wondrous confectionary joy, literally and metaphorically, and the promise of lives knitting together in a way more miraculous and pleasing than a Japanese Macha Mille Crepe Cake.
Well-used these ingredients might be, but as Isabella and Matthew demonstrate time again in a film that visually and rather happily resembles a topnotch Instagram baked goods account sprung to lustrously sugary life, that it what you do with these ingredients that counts.
There are those of course who get further than the fey and seemingly predictable exterior and assembling of tropes and cliches aplenty, but they will be all the poorer for not appreciating a film that elevates its base materials to something quite affecting and quietly poignant.
Take for example, the aftereffects of Sarah.s untimely death of her daughter, best friend and mother.
In many other films, their grief would be a plot device for a scene or two, long enough for the narrative to establish that they are SAD and DISPIRITED but also that they will BOUNCE BACK and DREAMS WILL BE REALISED. (The use of capitals points, none too subtlely itself it should be added, to the crass and overhanded way that many movies dismiss grief as something dealt with quickly and without any lingering effect because life is just that damn strong and irresistible; if only …)
But Love Sarah takes their grief seriously.
It understands you don’t simply bounce back like one of those inflatable people at a caryard, and that the loss of loved one doesn’t just gut life’s vivacity and shiny promise in the immediate and short-term but often far beyond that.
It would be nice to just rise back to the many challenges life throws at you but that’s simply not how grief works, and Love Sarah gets that, giving its characters an authentically understandable amount of time to make their peace, imperfect though it is, with the fact that their beloved Sarah is gone.
Thankfully, too, it gives each of the characters enough time to pick themselves back up, and to begin resuscitating Sarah and Isabella’s dream of a lux bakery so that it feels realistic.
As does the time it takes to get the shop refurbished, the shop up-and-running and patronage coming in; miraculously, success doesn’t happen in the space of a jauntily-edited montage yet nor do they have to suffer the hackneyed indignities of the over-used near-death of a dream trope which is a blessed relief.
Love Sarah takes it quiet meandering time exploring the establishment and running of the bakery, the way all the effort and time taken rebuilds fractured bonds between Mimi, Isabella and Clarissa and even Matthew in a way that feels organic and well within the realms of possibility.
The point that may be missed by those who will dismiss the film as light and fluffy food porn rom-com feelgoodedness is that while it may look the part of a thousand other fey and inconsequential stories before it, that Love Sarah is a lot more substantial and beautifully affecting that it first appears.
This is a piece of cinematic storytelling that gets the fact that we all want happy endings and dreams to be realised and life to go on after death has ripped what we knew asunder; but it also implicitly understands, and delivers on this understanding with a nuanced, layered story that is far more substantial than the trailer conveys, that getting to those various points of happiness and contentment cannot be solved by montages, rushed reunions or glib conversations.
Fortunately, none of those things happen in Love Sarah which makes your heart soar and your ragged 2020 self be soothed in the most wonderful of ways but does so in ways which feel like the hard won struggle for good things that life often is.
Yes, the bakery is gloriously pretty, and the cakes look like something Instagram would celebrate and London looks resolutely lovely but away from all this beauty and promise and joy sits a story which doesn’t shy away from grief and loss and pain and which understands that for dreams to be realised, they often first must be dashed, a salutary lesson that while life is rarely as straightforward as you’d want, it can still be beautiful and enchanting given time.