This month we’re looking at romance stories. Given that it’s February and all. So let’s look at the movie Sabrina.
We’re talking about the 1995 version with Harrison Ford. If you were wondering. It’s funny but never mean-spirited, it tells a story about love but never makes it a story about destiny or raw sentiment and it’s not afraid of allowing it’s main characters to need each other to complete themselves.
Sabrina is basically a coming of age story for it’s three main characters. Sabrina herself is coming into her own – at the beginning of the story she leaves home to study overseas in Paris, leaving behind her father and David Larrabee, her childhood crush. She comes back mature, confident and has to come to realize she’s outgrown David. Linus Larrabee, David’s brother, is trying to close a business deal and David’s brief infatuation with Sabrina poses a threat to that deal, so Linus tries to break them up. In the process he comes to grip with the fact that he’s missing something and Sabrina offers it to him. And David himself is a bit of a wastrel who needs to get out of his brother’s shadow to come into his own.
As a romance this story excels in a number of ways but most significantly it does so by allowing all of the characters time together, not gushing with emotion or plotting against one another, but just interacting with one another in fairly normal activities and letting us see how they mesh with each other. Rather than give us planned speeches about who’s best for who and why we get to see why Sabrina forming a relationship with David would be unhealthy for them both but a relationship with Linus would benefit both.
At the same time, the story is not afraid to let a romance be a time of growth. Too many modern romances make it sound like any kind of change threatens to tear a relationship apart, while Sabrina shows us that the very act of finding a relationship should change the people in it in a myriad of ways and, in fact, if they aren’t changing constantly that is what threatens to break them up. Finding romance is what spurs on the growth of all three of these characters, it’s not about savoring some ephemeral moment together but rather about charging forward side by side.
The best part about this film, both as a romance story and as a work of film in general, is how quiet it is. There’s nothing loud, nothing in your face, rather it’s full of moments where we see people’s attitudes through little things. Sabrina is always tense around the Larrabee brothers at first. It takes her longer to open up to Linus but ultimately she becomes more comfortable with him than with David – and we see it entirely through her posture and expression. Linus goes from preoccupied and intense to gradually more relaxed and open. David gradually starts to look more thoughtful. It makes the whole story feel comfortable and lived in, like it’s the kind of thing that could go on forever, rather than like a shiny trinket, eye-catching but likely to tarnish or scuff at the slightest touch.
In all, this is one of the great romantic stories of recent memory, and a fitting place to start our examination of stories that have done romance right. If you haven’t seen Sabrina, go out and watch it now.