Instead of a wan remake, this movie is an affectionate tribute to the staying power of its predecessor.
"Sabrina" is an Americn fairy tale dressed in modern clothes. Remakes of old favorites are risky undertakings that often unravel by violating the memories of the faithful. In this case, the turf could easily turn to quicksand given the 1954 cast of Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and the beloved Audrey Hepburn. But the ground stays solid.
Some excellent, quite inspired performances lift this movie into a category rarely visited in our violent times: the unabashedly sentimental romantic comedy. In a movie season that has turned into a contest for a gold medal in gore, "Sabrina" offers welcome relief. Although the story has been updated with modern planes, cars, and electronic equipment, it is still rooted in the gentle rhythms of 1954, when time seemed an unendangered commodity and trolling for mates at lawn parties was the preoccupation of the rich.
If, when the pace slows a bit, you start to think about a waiting fax or an undone deed, correct yourself. This movie is good for our souls. Who can resist the story of a chauffeur's daughter who watches the grand family parties from a tree, goes to Paris, and returns a beauty who wins the hearts of both brothers, the industrious CEO and the goofy playboy?
As Sabrina, Julia Ormond has a fey quality that makes her thoroughly believable in this lovely transformation. She sets the tone of the fairy tale beautifully by staying with the emotion of it, never once allowing logic to break the spell. Greg Kinnear is just right as David, the family parasite who dines on the work of his older brother without a whit of guilt.
As Linus Larrabee, Harrison Ford gets enormous mileage from not babbling. We have to search his face for emotion; but it's there, almost imperceptible, in his eyes or a smile, but there nonetheless. He's very appealing as the man who carries the family empire on his shoulders.
If this isn't enough, the three leads are supported in grand style by Nancy Marchand as the strong but nicely flexible matriarch, and John Wood as Sabrina's father, the chauffeur who chose his profession so he would have time to read. His wise silences tell us all we need to know about the touch of mystery that makes Sabrina so appealing. Dana Ivey is a delight as Linus's secretary.
In the best comic tradition, they all play with a reserve that allows us to relish what's coming. They embellish their characters with some very personal touches until a fully fashioned group stands before us, many warts included. They make great fun of a tale in which nothing need make sense.
Billy Wilder's story is in good hands. Instead of a wan remake, this movie is an affectionate tribute to the staying power of its predecessor. Yes, the North Shore of Long Island can still play in '95; and yes, Virginia, long ago, and not so far away, such a world really did exist.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Paramount
Rating : PG
Running Time: 2h7m
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