Celia Imrie, Shannon Tarbet, and Shelley Conn in Love Sarah (2020)
Writer-director Eliza Schroeder’s debut feature, Love Sarah, has flickers of potential that shine sporadically through its central characters. The story brings together three women sifting through the grief of losing someone they all loved. Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) wants to fulfill her mom’s dream of opening a bakery in Notting Hill; needing help, she asks her grandma Mimi (Celia Imrie) and old friend Isabella (Shelley Conn) to pitch in. The prospect of this bakery gives each of them the opportunity to patch up strained relationships and make up for lost time. Their dynamics give the story warmth, but the film as a whole goes in the route of uninspired and questionable choices. With resonating moments few and far between, Love Sarah feels like a slight slice of life with not very much to say.
The film opens with the aftermath of losing its title character. Sarah was the star chef of a once-popular bakery; now that she’s gone, investors have pulled out, the place is sitting empty, and her close friend Isabella is unable to get out of a lease agreement the two of them signed. Meanwhile, Sarah’s daughter Clarissa has just gotten out of a relationship; with nowhere else to go, she breaks into her mom’s bakery to sleep and shows up at her grandma Mimi’s house the next day. Mimi, who hadn’t seen her granddaughter in some time, questions this unannounced visit. As it turns out, Clarissa proposes opening up the bakery again in honour of Sarah. Mimi would pitch in financially, and Isabella would bake. By working together, they gain a newfound opportunity to reignite their relationships and do what they feel Sarah would have wanted.
Love Sarah tries to capture moments of triumph and finding a sense of purpose by way of reconnecting with people. The relationship dynamics between Isabella, Clarissa, and Mimi give the film some heart, but the characterization is not there. Without really scratching the surface of who these characters are, it’s a stretch to feel connected to them. The film misses an opportunity to explore how their relationships came to be undone, and how their experiences of loss bring them to the point that they’re introduced in the story. The bakery itself is plugged in as the glue that holds them all together, and as the film goes on, more time is spent on how the shop is to succeed.
After a series of failed interviews conducted to fill Sarah’s baker position, a guy named Mathew (Rupert Penry-Jones) walks into the shop having heard about the job. Tension is immediately noticed between him and Isabella, who have baking history as they used to train together. The introduction to this character feels completely sudden and as it turns out, he becomes an unnecessary addition to the story. The love interest angle is one of a few uninspired and questionable choices in the film, another being desserts of different cultures. After a quiet first week of the family’s bakery opening, Mimi gets the idea to start making desserts that apparently cannot be found anywhere else in London. She asks everyone she meets where they are from and what dessert they love, intending to cater for people from around the world. Intended as a reflection of multiculturalism, the portrayal feels like a missed opportunity with questionable focus on this bakery shop being the only place in London to provide treats from different parts of the world.
For Eliza Schroeder’s debut feature, what resonates most albeit sporadically is an optimistic response to the aftermath of grief. It is sweet that the central characters find a new way of bonding and learn more about their strengths in the process of losing a loved one. The performances are also charming enough to carry the film throughout, particularly Shelley Conn as Isabella. But the growing bond between the characters is sugarcoated by slight characterization and a series of uninspired plot points scattered along the way, holding back what makes Love Sarah work.