Sabrina (1995), an underrated Valentine’s Day gem
(Spoiler alert: This article will contain some spoilers from the movie, but I won't give away the ending.)
“Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island, not far from New York, there was a very, very large mansion, almost a castle, where there lived a family by the name of Larrabee. There were servants inside the mansion, and servants outside the mansion; boatmen to tend the boats, and six crews of gardeners: two for the solarium, the rest for the grounds, and a tree surgeon on retainer. There were specialists for the indoor tennis courts, and the outdoor tennis courts, the outdoor swimming pool, and the indoor swimming pool. And over the garage there lived a chauffeur by the name of Fairchild, imported from England years ago, together with a Rolls-Royce; and a daughter, named Sabrina.”
"Sabrina," the 1995 film starring Julia Ormond in the titular role alongside Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear, has always been my favorite romantic movie. I saw it for the first time in the summer of 2018 on the night of my high school graduation and absolutely loved it. Since that night, I’ve made it my go-to Valentine’s Day choice and for the most part, I keep my little tradition alive.
Now you might be thinking one of two things: one, isn’t there a black-and-white movie with the same name, and two, why this movie? To answer the first question, yes, this film is a remake of the 1955 "Sabrina" that starred Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden (who was dating Hepburn at the time).
And to answer the second question, I would go so far as to say that "Sabrina" is perfect for our time, even though the storyline may sound cliché, and it may be the type of film not suited for those who are easily offended.
We meet Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of the Larrabees’ British chauffeur, as a girl who’s spent her life watching the Larrabees’ lives from afar, mainly their lavish nighttime parties. She harbors an unrequited affection for David Larrabee (Greg Kinnear) — the younger, fun-loving Larrabee son, and stark contrast to his business-minded brother Linus Larrabee (Harrison Ford) who heads the family’s company with the vigilance of a hawk.
Her father, intent on giving her a chance to see the world outside of Long Island, sends her on an internship to Paris as a photographer for Vogue magazine. Initially sticking out like a sore thumb, with no knowledge of French, Sabrina learns to find her way through the city and even has a brief romance with someone new.
While this looks like a classic example of the all-too-familiar makeover trope in romantic comedies, Sabrina’s makeover goes beyond looks. When she returns to Long Island after two years in Paris, Sabrina is certainly more stylish but also wiser and more confident about herself. Julia Ormond perfectly balances playing a romantic ingenue with dreams, a girl who dearly loves her father, and a woman with a strong sense of self. Sabrina feels relatable, and perhaps even a little aspirational.
Alongside Sabrina’s story of personal growth, there is a second, equally engaging storyline interwoven into the film. When Sabrina returns from Paris, David is engaged to Elizabeth Tyson (played by Lauren Holly), a pediatrician who happens to come from a powerful business family. Tired of his brother’s philandering, Linus is happy with this relationship, especially since it comes with a billion-dollar-merger between the Larrabees and the Tysons. The only problem? David’s engagement to Elizabeth might be in jeopardy because his mother found him “hustling the chauffeur’s daughter.” To save the merger, Linus takes it upon himself to "deal with Sabrina," even if it means pretending to romance her just to keep her away from David. Except there’s one thing Linus’s plan didn’t account for: falling in love with Sabrina.
Ford’s portrayal of Linus Larrabee is absolutely wonderful. Compared to Bogart’s portrayal in the 1955 version, Ford’s portrayal of Linus seems much more likable despite the fact that the character is repeatedly called, “the world’s only living heart donor” (side note: if subtle-yet-snarky humor is your type, you are going to love the dialogue of this film). It’s hard not to feel sympathy for him during his moments of vulnerability, especially when he divulges about his past and what makes him tick. His chemistry with Ormond’s Sabrina is more than believable, and watching him fall in love with her is nothing short of beautiful.
The overall acting in this movie is fantastic, including the supporting cast. No single character ever comes off as a cliché. The dialogue is hilarious and romantic, perfectly delivered without being overly cheesy.
In addition, one of the things that makes Sabrina such a unique film is that there is no real “villain." There is no character with truly evil intentions to break up a couple or destroy a business, just people with wants and desires that sometimes collide with each other. Even Linus’s whole plan is done solely with the intent of saving a business deal.
Moreover, if not for the chance to see Ford in the shoes of a romantic leading man instead of a scruffy-looking nerf-herder or a professor of archaeology, watch "Sabrina" for the music, be it the enchanting soundtrack by John Williams, or the original song “In the Moonlight” crooned by the legendary Sting.
If by now you’ve felt like "Sabrina" is a film worth watching this Valentine’s Day, it’s available on Netflix for streaming (until Feb. 28) and on Pluto TV (free, but with ads).