Film Scouts Reviews

"Jack and Sarah"

by Karen Jaehne

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New York, March 18, 1996

An old Hollywood saw warns actors against the losing proposition of starring opposite babies and animals. The English star of this movie, Richard E. Grant, is one of the best actors of our time. (Unfortunately he has been eclipsed by that "other" Grant and been unfairly consigned to supporting roles in Hollywood movies.) In "Jack & Sarah," Grant wins against the baby and proves he can play something other than unlovable Englishmen.

As Jack, Richard Grant wakes from a drunken stupor to assume his responsibility for the bawling baby next to him on the bed. Before you can say infant formula, he's reforming his drinking mate Ian McKellan into a butler and juggling his legal career and baby carriage. The trick, of course, is to fend off well-intentioned but insufferable grandmothers-the superb actresses Eileen Atkins and Judi Dench-and find a competent nanny.

The romantic plot revolves around Jack's precarious relationship with an American waitress he takes on as a nanny. She knows as little of babies as he does, but together they demonstrate that instinct makes the best mother. His family's revulsion at "that horrid American" gives them a common enemy, the English class system. The sharply observed social relationships permit Grant to demonstrate the droll humor and debonair superiority of an English gentleman. Along the way, women's expectations of men are shown to be wildly unfair, and Grant triumphs as both Jack and Daddy. He's even better than the baby, which is a hard thing to do.

In one sense, "Jack & Sarah" depends on our fascination with that staple of romantic literature, the rise of the good nanny into the realm of the legitimate family. Love of children is a passport to respectability from "Jane Eyre" to "The Sound of Music." This could be described as The Sound of Music without the Music, because the score is intelligently modest. It is a rare filmmaker who knows when to purge the violins.

"Jack & Sarah" could have been a cute little movie about Father Learning What's Best, but Tim Sullivan wrote Jack's character with a tragedy at the center of his fatherhood. The movie is full of good sense and Grant is full of good sensibility. Yet in the wake of pablum like "9 Months," it faces an up-hill battle, because its audience is home watching the kids and waiting for it on the telly.

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