Love Sarah, review: a comedy so desperate to seem progressive that it ends up a Brexiteer
Dir: Eliza Schroeder. Cast: Celia Imrie, Shelley Conn, Shannon Tarbet, Rupert Penry-Jones, Bill Paterson. 12A cert, 98 mins
There is a special cupboard in Purgatory for films that are blissfully unaware of what they’re actually about, and a place is reserved on its shelves for Love Sarah.
It’s a drama of new beginnings in which three women of different generations, Mimi (Celia Imrie), Isabella (Shelley Conn) and Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet), pull together to open a bakery and coffee shop in London’s Notting Hill, or rather the boundlessly cosy Richard Curtis version thereof. The lease had already been signed on the place by Sarah – their estranged daughter, best friend and mother respectively, and a pastry whizz of some renown. (“She trained with Ottolenghi!” Isabella coos.)
Alas, a heavily foreshadowed cycling accident claims poor Sarah in the opening credits, so the three decide to plough on with the project in her honour, with assistance in the kitchen from her old flame Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), and his big, shiny pair of Michelin stars. Trade is sluggish – but then inspiration strikes the trio. Instead of Matthew’s haute pâtisserie, why not cater to the capital’s many immigrant communities with hale and hearty ethnic recipes drawn from across the globe?
“London is the most multicultural city on earth, but no-one is actually from here, are they?” Imrie’s Mimi opines, before suggesting that what their customers actually want is “something to remind them of home.” Cue a montage in which locals of various ethnicities tutor Matthew and Isabella, seemingly for free, in making their respective national cakes and fancies: Latvian kringel, Swedish semlor, Persian love cake and so on, which they then replicate and shove in the window, on boho-chic tableware. It’s their last hope to turn the business into something that would have made Sarah proud.
In the minds of director Eliza Schroeder and screenwriter Jake Brunger, the story presumably felt like a hopeful parable of post-referendum diversity and harmony: in fact, the film’s progressive credentials are so strenuously signalled throughout, I’m surprised its full title wasn’t “Love Sarah #PeoplesVote #FBPE”.
But, of course, it’s really a cringeworthy saga of four upper-middle-class chancers selling their neighbours’ own national cuisines back to them at Notting Hill rates. Entirely by accident, Schroeder and Brunger have made the Brexit version of Get Out, in which Imrie and co spend the film barking questions like “No, where are you actually from?” at any nonwhite customer who happens to walk into their cafe, then learn how to make perfect Australian lamingtons or Japanese matcha mille crepe cakes overnight.
To paraphrase Get Out, everyone in Love Sarah would tell you they'd have voted Remain twice if they could. But the world outside their Instagrammable bubble is just a mood board.
In cinemas from Friday