Friday December 15, 1995
Though some of the choicest talent in Hollywood is involved, including stars Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond and director Sydney Pollack, "Sabrina" plays like a standard brand. A mild romantic comedy, undemanding and unobjectionable, it fits the definition of product, a film made not for love but because it was a package that could be sold.
That scenario rings true because anyone who truly cared about the 1954 Billy Wilder "Sabrina" (starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) would see that even though it's not an unapproachable classic, a successful remake was unlikely. While most audiences viewing this "Sabrina" won't know about the original, the vague sense of disappointment they're likely to feel stems from how unsuited it is to being made over.
Pollack and screenwriters Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel stick reasonably close to what has come before, even reprising the "once upon a time on the North Shore of Long Island" voice-over opening that signals the fairy tale nature of the proceedings.
Doing the talking is church mouse Sabrina Fairchild (Ormond), a dowdy chauffeur's daughter whose favorite pastime is spying on the elaborate parties given by her father's employers, the wealthy Larrabee clan. That includes mother Maude (Nancy Marchand), all-business elder son Linus (Ford) and his younger scamp of a brother David (Greg Kinnear).
It's Mr. Wine, Women and Song that Sabrina has a special interest in. More delusional than Buzz Lightyear, she is completely obsessed with David, a man who barely acknowledges her existence and considers life out of his sight to be "a hopeless abyss of misery and despair."
It's thoughts like that that cause her wise father (John Wood) to ship Sabrina off to Paris for awhile. When she returns, loaded down with smashing clothes and continental savoir-faire, she finds that David, though engaged to wealthy heiress and doctor Elizabeth Tyson (Lauren Holly), is still too much of a rascal not to want to chase her around the backyard.
Irked by this new turn of affairs is stuffy Linus, who planned to use David's marriage to Elizabeth to make oodles of money for the family. Described as "the world's only living heart donor," Linus coldheartedly decides he is going to romance Sabrina to distract her from David. At least, that's the plan.
Though it has its amusing moments and some good comic turns from Dana Ivey as a starchy secretary and Miriam Colon as an emotional maid, "Sabrina" finds it difficult to attain a semblance of life. For a variety of reasons, the film's dynamic is simply not believable this time around.
One problem is that many of "Sabrina's" underpinnings feel dated. The original's emphasis on the horror of a chauffeur's daughter romancing a wealthy man's son has wisely been dispensed with, but still the whole notion of madcap playboys and gaga servant girls feels a trifle stale.
A more insurmountable difficulty is in the casting. For whatever success the original "Sabrina" had came from a particular chemistry between actors that would be almost impossible to duplicate today.
Audrey Hepburn was able, as no current actress would be, to look girlish one moment and devastating the next. To compensate, the filmmakers have had to load up Ormond early on with clunky glasses and so much unconvincing dowdy clothing that she looks as if she were dressed up for Halloween as one of the Beverly Hillbillies.
That situation is made worse by an understandable kind of miscasting in the male roles. In the original, Humphrey Bogart looked so dour and unhappy (he knew he was not the first choice for the role) and William Holden is so much of a hunk that Sabrina's fascination with the younger brother is perfectly understandable.
In the new "Sabrina," Kinnear is too much of a pipsqueak to be convincing as the mad Lothario every woman falls in love with. And even with glasses, a homburg and a worried look, Ford's Linus is so much handsomer than Kinnear's David that it seems only a matter of time until Ormond's Sabrina notices. And with that critical dynamic and others gone, "Sabrina" proves too flimsy of a reed to be successfully replanted.
Sabrina, 1995. PG, for some mild language. A Mirage/Scott Rudin/Sandollar production, in association with Constellation Films, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Sydney Pollack. Producers Scott Rudin and Sydney Pollack. Executive producers Ronald Schwary, Lindsay Doran. Screenplay Barbara Benedek & David Rayfiel, based on the film written by Billy Wilder and Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman. Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. Editor Frederic Steinkamp. Costumes Ann Roth. Music John Williams. Production design Brian Morris. Art director John Kasarda. Set decorators George DeTitta Jr., Amy Marshall. Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes. Harrison Ford as Linus Larrabee. Julia Ormond as Sabrina Fairchild. Greg Kinnear as David Larrabee. Nancy Marchand as Maude Larrabee. John Wood as Fairchild. Richard Crenna as Patrick Tyson. Angie Dickinson as Ingrid Tyson. Lauren Holly as Elizabeth Tyson.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times