Jack and Sarah (1995) — An overlooked romcom classic

“I hate getting aggressive, I’m not very good at it, and it upsets me for the rest of the day.”

Justin’s rating: I can’t tell you how accurately they got the baby’s crying. It’s uncanny.

Justin’s review: When my wife and I first met and were getting to know each other, she — an avid romcom fanatic — asked me which were my favorite romantic movies of all time. Most of my picks came from the ’80s and ’90s, as I was more wistfully romantic back before I had someone in my life, and so I named movies like When Harry Met Sally, The Cutting Edge, and Before Sunrise as solid go-to movies on this topic.

Yet there were many more than that, of course — I was quite the romantic myself — some of which have been lost to time and memory. In fact, I was only recently reminded of this entry when it popped out of the blue and made me sit up and literally exclaim, “I LOVED this movie! I had totally forgotten about it, but this was one of my favorites!” But was that true? I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s, especially since it pretty much became inaccessible due to a lack of modern physical or digital releases. I was eager to find out whether Jack and Sarah was the romcom delight that I enjoyed back in my bachelor days or if it was a passing fling.

One indication that you’re in for a slightly different romcom experience is in the title itself. If I handed this to you and said it was a romantic comedy, you’d assume that these were the names of the two principal love interests. But it’s not! The title, as the movie itself, revolves around a father-daughter relationship — hence Jack (the dad) and Sarah (the daughter). There’s a romance too, yes, but it’s orbiting this rather unexplored relationship dynamic of a single father raising a baby girl.

Because this is a comedy, Jack and Sarah quickly blips over the tragedy that sets up this interesting setup. Jack (Richard Grant) has a nasty fall at his house, hits his head, and goes into a convenient Movie Coma right when his wife goes into labor. She dies — offscreen, mercifully — and he wakes up having lost a spouse and gained a little bundle of peeing joy. As Jack is a bit of a crazy mess, he struggles with the logistics and emotions of being on his own for this major shift in life.

So Jack hires Amy (Samatha Mathis), an American nanny, to give him a helping hand. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

But as I said before, this movie is two stories about a man who falls in love, with the first and biggest being Jack’s growing love for his daughter. Initially, Jack wants only to wallow in his grief and have nothing to do with Sarah — that is, until he’s pushed by his family and friends to step up into this new role. I loved this. I still do. It’s so rare for a movie to be about a dad learning to love his girl and taking those initial steps, alone, into fatherhood. Making it the center relationship shows amazing confidence on the part of the filmmakers. It’s wise, too, because it would almost be completely disrespectful if it was a cheap excuse to throw a guy and girl together for some smooches. The Jack-Amy pairing works because it naturally flows out this greater story (and she doesn’t even show up until the 40-minute mark, which shows you the priority here).

If you had to pin me down and force me to be a true critic here, I’d admit that there are two glaring flaws that are hard to escape. First is that Samantha Mathis simply doesn’t seem comfortable with her lines. She’s not at ease in this role, spitting out unnatural-sounding lines. And second is that the movie bends over backwards and then twists itself into silly knots trying to get around the fact that Jack’s parents and mother-in-law constantly — like, five or six times — offer to watch Sarah for him during the day. There is no logical reason why he shouldn’t take advantage of this, because who would turn down Dame Judi Dench babysitting your kid? But the movie’s got to literally move a love interest down the hall in his house, so he has to say no. It’s weird.

Even in light of that, I still adore this movie just as I once did. It’s one of the amazing gems of the ’90s that shamefully fell into obscurity and deserves another shot. The strong emotions flowing out of the loss of Sarah’s mother are balanced by some tremendously funny moments and lines along the way. It’s rare that a movie makes me tear up and laugh in turns, but Jack and Sarah does that to me.

I’ve never seen Richard Grant as a lead, but he’s great here, and he’s got plenty of high-quality help with Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Ian McKellen showing up in support roles. And the baby is beyond adorable. Have I mentioned that? I don’t know how they got such a cute baby, but dang it, this one should be gracing greeting cards.

It’s time Jack and Sarah got the respect it deserves as a romcom classic. Let’s make that happen.

Didja notice?

  • “Yes, it’s me, you’ve got a live one!”
  • Women can be asked by businesses to rearrange their births
  • Gandalf likes to slum in dumpsters
  • I always choke up when Jack walks away from his daughter that first time
  • Imogen’s lipstick on the glass
  • You can’t tell a baby to stop peeing. Trust me, I’ve tried.
  • The makeshift diaper
  • William silently turning away when he isn’t allowed to walk the baby
  • Babies like mail carts
  • Jack’s dad holding him on the park bench is a good moment
  • Remember when everyone wore berets in the ’90s? This movie does.
  • “She’s excited, she’s never been on the phone before.”
  • Amy teaching Sarah to stick a finger in her mouth over Anna
  • “You’re a blinkered idiot” is a good insult I’m going to squirrel away for a rainy day

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