Love Sarah is a heartwarming and well-meaning bakery drama with serious Chocolat vibes, even though it’s a few ingredients away from hitting the mark.
It’s no spoiler to say that Love Sarah is not really about Sarah. In fact, the titular character of Eliza Schroeder’s culinary drama is not really in the film at all. Sarah Curachi (Candice Brown) is an Ottolenghi-trained pastry chef who dies when the opening credits are still rolling, in a cycling accident that happens right when she was about to open a bakery in Notting Hill (quite literally so, as she was on her way to receive the keys of the cafe) with her best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn). Having had little success trying to sell the empty space where the shop was to be opened, Isabella joins forces with Sarah’s 18-year-old daughter and her estranged grandmother (Sarah’s mother), and the three generations of women fulfill the chef’s dream of opening a bakery, which they aptly name “Love Sarah”.
If the plot sounds as appealing as the delicious food it displays, it’s because it is. Love Sarah is a feel-good drama whose strength resides in its incredibly talented cast, which will make you fall in love with its characters. Its endearing story will have you smile from ear to ear for this culinary tale’s entire duration, and its heartwarming message will put you in a good mood and stay with you for a while. At the same time, Love Sarah fails to hit the mark when it tries to provide a believable narrative for its protagonists and their endeavours. Though the film tries hard to replicate the charm of Richard Curtis rom-coms like Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, part of the magic gets lost in too many unlikely coincidences and improbable twists, as well as a well-meaning anti-Brexit message that, unfortunately, gets lost in a version of London that does not really exist anymore.
Let’s start from the film’s improbable coincidences: take Sarah’s daughter. Aspiring dancer Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) is a teenager whose backstory contains just enough information to explain her timely involvement in the bakery. Her boyfriend, also a dancer, makes a brief and sudden appearance at the beginning of the film with the only purpose of breaking up with her – a breakup that happens with our favourite teenager uttering painfully obvious lines such as “are you breaking up with me? Oh my God, you are breaking up with me”. This leaves her homeless, which makes her decide to break into her mother’s empty shop at the exact right time for Isabella to find her sleeping in it, the following morning, on the only day in which she makes an appearance to show it to a potential buyer.
Which is when we also find out that Sarah isn’t really homeless, as she actually has a relative to reach out to. That relative is her grandmother, Mimi (Celia Imrie), a retired circus star who has her own improbable twists to deal with. As it were, Mimi was in the process of writing a letter to try and reconnect with her estranged daughter in the exact moment in which Sarah was having her tragic accident, a coincidence that leaves her overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Needless to say, this eventually influences her involvement in the bakery – a bakery that also succeeds thanks to the sudden appearance of a Michelin-star-winning chef (Matthew, played by the excellent Rupert Penry-Jones), who, in a very Mamma Mia-like twist, could or could not turn out to be Clarissa’s father.
If you’re looking for flaws in plot and characterisation, you’ll find plenty of them in Love Sarah: its obvious foreshadowing and unlikely coincidences will certainly make it easy for you to spot all the points in which its script would have needed – in culinary terms, more substance and less “embellishments”. More importantly, Love Sarah happens to have been released at a moment in time that makes it difficult to embrace the aspects of the film that have to do with cultural diversity.
In the film, the three women’s business only takes off thanks to Mimi’s idea to cater to those customers who are not “actually from [London]”, and bring them “a home away from home” by baking their favourite pastries and cakes. Keeping in mind that London-based director Eliza Schroeder was born in Germany, it’s quite clear that she genuinely intended her film to convey a message of acceptance and human connection. Unfortunately, in light of recent events in London and in the world, that message might not resonate with audiences as well as it would have before Brexit happened.
Which is why I urge you to watch Love Sarah without thinking about any of those aspects, and embrace it as a feel-good culinary drama with excellent performances and delicious treats that will leave you longing for Japanese matcha cake (google it: trust me, it’s worth it). Because Schroeder’s drama might be flawed and it certainly did happen to come out at the wrong time, but, if you choose to ignore its imperfections, you’ll find that it’s also an enjoyable, heartwarming drama with a great deal of heart.
Love Sarah is now available to watch on Hulu, on digital and on demand.