A nervous British actor named Grant has a slowly evolving romance with a beautiful, confident American. Sound familiar? Well, the producers of “Jack and Sarah” don’t mind if you think so. But if you’re looking to repeat your “Four Weddings and a Funeral” experience, keep looking.
The Grant in “Jack and Sarah” is Richard E., no relation to Hugh, and whatever laughs there are come as comic relief in a personal drama that is often painful to watch--and not always because it is so emotionally involving. First-time director Tim Sullivan, a protege of the late avant-garde British filmmaker Derek Jarman, is attempting a delicate balancing act here, mixing farce and bathos, and we can be thankful he’s not carrying nitro.
“Jack and Sarah” is the story of a fast-rising corporate lawyer whose perfect marriage and kooky-sunny disposition are turned inside-out by the death of his wife in childbirth. Sarah is the baby who survives and pulls him out of a near-death depression, and the American is Amy (Samantha Mathis), a spirited waitress he meets in a restaurant and impulsively hires as Sarah’s nanny.
Can a rebuilt nuclear family be far behind?
It takes about half the movie to get these three survivors in place, and the rest to work out their emotional connections. That’s OK--it’s not a plot-driven story, it’s about feeling and healing, and it would take a heart colder than mine to reject what is essentially a love story between a man and his daughter. And baby Sarah--played by 4-month-old twins and, later, by the director’s own 1-year-old--is the cutest cradle tot this side of a Michelin tire commercial.
But the mood swings in “Jack and Sarah” will give you whiplash. One moment, Jack is behaving like a rambunctious puppy, the next like a puppy who’s been hit by a car, and you’re afraid to laugh for fear the mood will shift before you close your mouth. In fact, Sullivan, who also wrote the script, has the bad taste to milk a cheap laugh--Jack falling down a flight of stairs when his wife goes into labor--moments before he and we learn that she hasn’t survived the birth.
The film continues to make these jolting shifts between dizzy comedy and melodrama, and it’s a miracle on the level of childbirth that it holds together at all. But it does. Richard E. Grant may not be able to play the boyish charmer as well as Hugh Grant, but he’s a much better actor, and you do ultimately identify with the real emotions of his profoundly hurt and confused character.
Sullivan filled out Jack’s life with the familiar meddling parents and in-laws, and a predatory co-worker who wants to fill the void in his life, and hatched a complicating subplot about Amy’s affections for some blond bonehead who used to be her boss. But there are good performances throughout.
Mathis has an affable presence, even if we don’t learn much about Amy, and Ian McKellen is a hoot as the well-mannered bum Jack befriends during a bender and brings home as his de facto housekeeper.
* MPAA rating: R, for some language. Times guidelines: solid family entertainment if it washed its mouth out with soap.
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‘Jack and Sarah’
Richard E. Grant: Jack
Samantha Mathis: Amy
Judi Dench: Margaret
Ian McKellen: William
Cherie Lunghi: Anna
A Granada Film production, released by Gramercy Pictures. Director Tim Sullivan. Producers Pippa Cross, Simon Channing-Williams, Janette Day. Screenplay by Tim Sullivan. Cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier. Editor Lesley Walker. Costumes Dany Everett. Music Simon Boswell. Production design Christopher J. Bradshaw. Art director Humphrey Bangham. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
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