Who doesn’t love cake? Individual, large slice, dainty sliver – it doesn’t matter. It’s still cake. And, despite the familiar faces in Love Sarah, that’s probably why people will watch the film: that, and the prospect of seeing something akin to Bake Off on the big screen. It would be trite to call it Bake Off – The Movie, but it’s about the closest thing we’ve had so far – and it’s not to be seen on an empty stomach.
The Sarah of the title is about to open her own bakery with her best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn) and it’s not just her dream come true: it’s one that her mother has nursed for years but never managed to fulfil. But a terrible accident prevents the little shop on Notting Hill High Street – called Love Sarah – becoming reality. Sarah’s daughter, however, has other ideas and gives up her dancing career to make it happen, with help from Isabella and Sarah’s mother, Mimi (Celia Imrie). Along the way, they have to sort out who gets the critical job of chef and resolve the issue that separated Sarah and her mother for some years.
Yes, it’s set in Notting Hill and you can’t help but immediately think of Richard Curtis and, indeed, any other feel good film set in this picturesque corner of London. It’s one that’s romanticised to the nth degree to the point where it’s not just artificial but cloying, reminiscent of Hampstead – OK, the setting is down the road, but is awfully similar – and with London is on its best visual behaviour. It simply can’t shake off that tweeness and, while it’s billed as a comedy and is clearly meant to be heart warming, you almost wonder if it’s actually intended to be a fantasy as well. Because this isn’t the real world. When the team decide to start up the business, they work hard to get it going, open the doors on launch day and expect the crowds to flood in. They’ve been working on the “if you build it, they will come” principle and not for a single moment does it occur to them to actually tell anybody about the place.
Of course, it all works out well in the end – it would, wouldn’t it? – but that extra helping of sugar into the mix overpowers its charm. Subtlety isn’t its strong point either, especially when it comes to the romance in the second half, and there are times when you wish director Eliza Schroeder had made more of the experienced members of her ensemble. Celia Imrie is nicely cast as the slightly eccentric mother, a former circus performer who can still cut it on the trapeze – and we see her do it! – but Bill Paterson’s only reason for being in the film is to provide a little grey haired romantic interest for her. He deserves more. Rupert Penry Jones is Sarah’s old flame, who joins the team as the chef, and is suitably casual and appealing, but he’s hardly stretched.
Watching Love Sarah requires little or no effort. It’s a pleasant confection, and one with all the hallmarks of a personal project, and the pitfalls that can go with it: here, they’ve got in the way of making a film that has more to say about mother/daughter relationships. It just boils down to being all about the cakes. They look fantastic – Leith and Hollywood would be suitably impressed – but that’s simply not enough. You’ll get a huge sugar rush, but not much more.
Comedy, Drama | Cert: 12A | Parkland Entertainment | 10 July 2020 | Dir. Eliza Schroeder | Shelley Conn, Celia Imrie, Rupert Penry-Jones, Bill Paterson, Shannon Tarbet.