Linus and David Larrabee (Ford and Kinnear respectively) are brothers, the heirs to a wealthy family. Sabrina Fairchild (Ormond) is the daughter of the Larrabee family's chauffeur; she has a crush on David, but he barely knows she exists.
Sabrina comes back from an extended trip to Paris with a new look and a new sense of self-confidence. David is instantly smitten, but there's a problem: in Sabrina's absence, he's become engaged to Elizabeth Tyson, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of another business magnate. To avoid a scandal (and losing an important business deal with Elizabeth's father), Linus undertakes to keep David and Sabrina separated by romancing Sabrina himself.
The film contains examples of:
- Alliterative Name: Linus Larrabee.
- Anguished Declaration of Love:
- Sabrina gives one to David before her trip to Paris. Unfortunately, she gives it to Linus by accident.Sabrina: If there's anything I can do for you...
Linus: (stepping out) Can you get me one of those little Eiffel Tower paperweights?
(Cue Sabrina fleeing.)
- A milder version with Fairchild:Fairchild: Marry me for my money. People do it every day.
Joanna: I'm not amused, Thomas, and I have a great sense of humor.
Fairchild: Then marry me for love.
- Sabrina gives one to David before her trip to Paris. Unfortunately, she gives it to Linus by accident.
- Bookends: The film begins and ends with Sabrina's narration about the film being a Fairy Tale.
- Deadpan Snarker: Patrick Tyson:Maude: Did Elizabeth pick out her dress yet?
Ingrid: We're still working on the guest list. Six hundred so far, and that's just on our side!
Patrick: (snarky) That's not a wedding, it's a town.
Ingrid: Stop, it's going to be wonderful! Elegant but simple, lavish but tasteful...
Patrick: (snarky) Cheap but expensive.
- The Dreaded: Linus.Sabrina: What was Linus like when he was younger?
- Everyone Has Standards: Linus's mother learns of his plan to string Sabrina along then dump her. Linus tells her that she is no stranger to dirty dealing in business. She retorts, "I didn't teach you this."
- Fairy Tale: Sabrina narrates the film as one, even being with "Once Upon a Time..."
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: David and Linus. Maude even lampshades when seeing the two of them (Linus in a business suit, David in a tennis outfit), "Now there's a picture — which one works for a living?"
- Subverted at the end when David takes control of the merger.Maude: David! When did you ever...?
David: Mother, you've copied me on the financial standings of this company for 17 years. You just assumed I couldn't read.
- It's earlier Deconstructed, as David does show some awareness of business when he realises that Linus is planning a merger with Tyson, and his status as the younger brother may have been a reason for his flightiness.Sabrina: My father once asked David why he stopped coming to the office and David said, "What do they need me for? Linus is there."
- Subverted at the end when David takes control of the merger.
- Foreshadowing: David doesn't recognize Sabrina when she returns from Paris — but Linus knows her immediately. There may be a reason Linus recognizes her even with a new look.
- Funny Background Event: During Maude's birthday party, all Linus is doing is showing off the indestructible flatscreen television set to Japanese investors, as their all take turns whacking it with a crowbar.
- Gay Paree: Sabrina's a fashion photographer's assistant at Vogue.
- Hidden Depths: David, despite spending most of his time playing sport and dallying with attractive women, demonstrates near the end that he's fully capable of handling the business end if the situation arises.
- Idle Rich: Deconstructed. David isn't an idiot, and he has an office in his family's business. However, he just feels superfluous and has no reason to think he'd be able to contribute.
- Important Haircut: Sabrina has a huge mop that conceals her face. It is no wonder David genuinely doesn't recognize her when he first sees Sabrina post-snip.
- Ironic Echo: Linus tells David about Elizabeth: "You don't deserve her, but she appears to love you." Linus says the same thing of Sabrina and himself.
- Like Brother and Sister: Maude tries to make Elizabeth's father less paranoid when David and Sabrina are dancing by invoking this trope. His retort?"I have a sister. That's not how we dance."
- Meaningful Name: Sabrina Fairchild is named after a story by John Milton, Sabrina Fair, in which a virgin is saved by a water nymph from a Fate Worse than Death. Tellingly, Sabrina is the name of the savior.
- Meet Cute: Sabrina and Linus have already known each other distantly for years when the movie starts, but their first on-screen interaction — Sabrina seizing her last chance to give an Anguished Declaration of Love to David, only to find that it's actually Linus — ticks the boxes for a meet-cute.
- Mistaken for Gay: One of the servants states she always assumed Linus was gay. Another servant snarks that makes her like him better. Fairchild shuts it down by saying that Linus is straight.
- Nautical Knockout: This happens to Linus Larrabee.
- "No. Just... No" Reaction: When Linus realizes that David intends to flirt with Sabrina, he reacts like this.Linus: David... no.
David: What are you talking about? I was just...
- Once Upon a Time: Julia Ormond delivers both opening and ending narration containing this phrase.
- One Steve Limit: For whatever reason, Linus has two personal assistants named Ron.
- One-Word Title: First name of Protagonist Title.
- OOC Is Serious Business:
- Papa Wolf: Sabrina's father Up to Eleven. He even stands up to The Dreaded Linus.Fairchild: ...
Linus: Go on, say it.
Fairchild: You don't deserve her.
- Protagonist Title: First name.
- Race for Your Love: By the time Linus realizes his love for Sabrina, she's flying back to Paris, so Linus has to take a Concorde to beat her there.
- Romantic False Lead: The man Sabrina dates in Paris. Her French friend thinks David is one, saying Sabrina is "chasing a shadow". She's right, too.
- Sealed with a Kiss: It ends with a kiss between Sabrina and Linus.
- Secretly Wealthy: The concern about Sabrina not being a social/financial equal with the Larrabees is resolved when her father reveals that in the years he's worked for the family he's learned a few things and invested wisely, and is now worth several million dollars himself.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Sabrina blooms like a flower in Paris, to the point at which when she returns to Long Island, David — who's known her all their lives — doesn't recognize her. Amusingly, Linus recognizes her immediately.David: Sabrina?!
Linus: Why does he keep saying your name?
- That Came Out Wrong: The Tysons. When Mrs. Tyson is asked about formerly being an airline stewardess, she tells Linus, "Well, I bet I could still get your seat back in an upright position."Elizabeth: (whispering) Every time they try to be funny, it comes out sounding perverse... or terrifying.
- Unequal Pairing: Both Linus and David are members of the upper crust. Sabrina is a chauffeur's daughter, but subverted, as Sabrina's father casually reveals that he regularly invested his paycheck into Mister Larrabee's own investments for the entirety of his career as a chauffeur. As a result, he's a millionaire and his daughter was unknowingly born into money. Thus, there's no need to worry about her being a Gold Digger.
- Wham Line:Sabrina: Dad, are you telling me you have a million dollars?
Fairchild: No. A little over two million.
- You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: When Maude reacts to David's bullshit.Maude: Do I look stupid? You know I never thought of my self as stupid, but maybe I am!