Jack And Sarah

on March 22, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   Combining winning elements from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Three Men and a Baby" but an exquisite success all its own, this directing debut by Tim Sullivan (who co-scripted "A Handful of Dust" and "Where Angels Fear to Tread") could well ignite moviegoers' romantic fires during valentine season. Its story follows a recent widower, Jack ("L.A. Story's" Richard E. Grant), who's trying to raise his tiny daughter Sarah (Bianca and Sophia Lee and Sophia Sullivan) alone in London; into his life, thanks to a chance stop at a local coffeeshop, comes an American expatriate waitress, Amy ("Broken Arrow's" Samantha Mathis).
   None too good at her current profession--she is fired mid-meal--the struggling Amy accepts Jack's offer to change occupation and become a nanny. None too good at handling babies, either--Amy must call her mother long-distance in the States to find out how a diaper should be put on--as the months pass she nevertheless comes to not only Jack's childrearing but his emotional aid. Complications abound in their deepening relationship: Jack's strict mother ("GoldenEye's" Judi Dench) and easygoing mother-in-law ("The Dresser's" Eileen Atkins) constantly offer competing suggestions for the only nascently maternal Amy, as does a live-in butler ("Richard III's" Ian McKellen) who, until Jack took him in during a shared alcoholic binge after the death of Jack's wife, was homeless; on the affection front, Jack is being pursued by the wealthy and socially refined general partner ("The Mission's" Cherie Lunghi) of the law firm at which Jack works. In their supporting turns, all are top-notch, as is the scripting of the characters by Sullivan, here creating the luminous opposite of the discomfitingly dark themes of his "Where Angels Fear to Tread."
   "Jack and Sarah" seamlessly combines moments of real tragedy--Jack coming home from the hospital after losing his much-loved wife, "Farewell to Arms"-style, to childbirth complications--and moments full of unexpectedly pleasing romance. As the protagonist, Grant is good, but--with his own Denchian dash of the curmudgeon he doesn't possess quite the charm of that other Grant, Hugh, for whom charm comes effortlessly. But Mathis--till now best known for supporting performances in "This Is My Life," "Little Women" and "An American President"--here has that kind of charm in abundance in what deserves to be her breakthrough leading role; with it, she takes her place alongside Olivia d'Abo and Claire Danes as one of our best young American actresses. Starring Richard E. Grant and Samantha Mathis. Directed and written by Tim Sullivan. Produced by Pippa Cross, Simon Channing-Williams and Janette Day. A Gramercy release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for some language. Running time: 110 min
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