Opens: December 15, 1995 | Rated: PG
Remaking a Humphrey Bogart-Audrey Hepburn movie takes bravado. One would need a brilliant script, actors who could comfortably fill legendary shoes and a director with a predisposition for creating classics.
The perfectly romantic retelling of "Sabrina," which opened yesterday, has all of the above. Director Sydney Pollack, who has a few possible classics under his belt ("The Way We Were" and "Out of Africa" for example), can add this one to the list.
Starring Harrison Ford as Linus Larrabee, a cold, workaholic corporate magnate (the Bogart role) and Julia Ormond as the gawky chauffeur's daughter turned gorgeous sophisticate (the Hepburn role), "Sabrina" has the kind of inspirational dialogue and depth that sends you out of the theater wanting to emulate the characters.
Ormond ("Legends of the Fall") plays Sabrina, the shy bookworm daughter of the driver for a wealthy Long Island family. She has a silent crush on David, the family's handsome but shallow younger brother, unfortunately over-played by Greg Kinnear (host of TV's "Later"), but he doesn't know she's alive.
She moves to Paris for a year, works for Vogue magazine, and when she returns having blossomed into a breathtaking and confident beauty, David is awe-struck.
David is also, however, engaged to the daughter of a business partner with whom Linus is working on a multi-million dollar merger, which poses a problem.
Linus sets out to break up any romance before it starts, but falls for Sabrina himself.
Ford's penchant for playing the slightly uncomfortable everyman comes in handy here. Women won't swoon over Linus, he's not that charming, but the awkwardness of being in love and not knowing quite what to say at any given moment comes through wonderfully from both Ford and Ormond.
There is no small talk in "Sabrina." The script is rich with the kind of conversation that most movies, even romances, don't even aspire to. Where your average dialogue might have "What are you thinking?" in this film it's "I am in Paris, but you are somewhere else."
"Sabrina" has some stumbling blocks, especially while in Paris where we are asked to believe that a plain-Jane nobody American can just walk into the offices of French Vogue and get a job assisting one of the editors.
We also never see Sabrina's transformation. One minute she's a dowdy, drab teenager in a Paris cafe, and in the very next scene she's back in Long Island dressed like a perfume commercial.
This problem is quickly forgotten because Sabrina's return is really where the story gets rolling. But it wouldn't have been difficult to include a quick montage sequence of the Vogue editor taking Sabrina shopping or something of the sort.
As far as comparisons to the 1954 Billy Wilder "Sabrina," the properly '90-ized redeux holds it's own and even adds a depth of character that wasn't evident in the original. In 1954 knowing Linus was in love with Sabrina was enough. In 1995 we also understand how and why this came to pass.
Although "Sabrina" expects some leaps of faith regarding fundamental changes in character (another sticking point: how nose-to-the-grindstone Linus becomes suddenly quite deft with the romantic gestures), Ford and Ormond make up for these problems with soul-exploring performances.
The Oscar picture has been pretty bleak this year, but look for a Best Picture nod for "Sabrina" and certainly a Best Actress nomination for Ormond's engaging performance, which is completely her own and not peeking out from behind Hepburn's ghost.
This review appeared in the Daily Republic, Fairfield, CA.
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