When you first meet Sabrina Fairchild in Sabrina, she's a just kid—she's young and naïve. She has the ponytail and bug-eyed innocence to prove it. She's such a teenager, in fact, that in her voiceover at the very beginning of the film, she describes herself and her surroundings in fairy tale terms:
SABRINA: Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island, some thirty miles from New York, there lived a small girl on a large estate.
Take out the "Long Island" and "New York" from that sentence, and you could have Cinderella—another sweet servant girl living among rich people. (There's no evil stepmom in Sabrina, though.)
And we think Sabrina is charming in part because she's sweetly innocent. Her love for David isn't a sexual passion so much as it's a kind of amusing fan-girliness. She writes to her dad:
SABRINA: I decided to be sensible the other day and tore up David's picture. Could you please airmail me some Scotch tape?
She treats David like he's Harry Styles and she's a Directioner—she's a kid with a silly crush, not someone who's actually in love. The servants sit around and tut-tut about her impossible love for someone so far above her socially.
Which brings us to another charming facet of Sabrina's personality: she's transparent. She has no poker face. Everybody knows everything about her just by looking at her. The Baron can tell she's in love just by looking at how she cooks (or fails to cook) her soufflé. Sabrina has no secrets and no guile.
Paris changes Sabrina just like the Prince's ball changes Cinderella. But there's a big difference between Cinderella and Sabrina—Sabrina's transformation is way better.
Cinderella retains her innocence—and is seen as attractive and worthy of the Prince's attention because she's innocent. Sabrina, though, doesn't just put on a new gown and some highly uncomfy slippers. Paris teaches her about life. She gets an education, learns a marketable skill, and obvious picks up on Parisian fashion tips.
You see this as soon as Sabrina shows up again on Long Island. Before she left, everyone knew her and what she wanted; she was an open book. But when David meets her, she's suddenly a mystery. He doesn't know who she is—literally—and she won't tell him.
DAVID: Sure you don't want to tell me your name?
SABRINA: Positive. I'm having too much fun.
The post-Paris Sabrina has secrets—her identity, her love, how to rock all-black French ensembles—and she enjoys them.
Sabrina doesn't only know her own secrets; she knows other people's. Her father warns her, "Sabrina, David is engaged. He's getting married again." That's a little tidbit David was keeping from her, but it doesn't bother Sabrina. She just announces. "I know," and adds that she's not concerned since, "He's not married yet."
Looks like Cinderella—er, Sabrina—went to Paris and became a cheerful home wrecker.
Who's the Innocent One: Sabrina or Linus?
In her relationship with Linus, though, Sabrina is dumped back into being the innocent dupe. Linus intends to get between her and David, make her love him, and then vamoose. He's the sophisticated wealthy manipulator. After all, like Sabrina says of him:
SABRINA: Just imagine, you press a button and factories go up, or you pick up a telephone and a hundred tankers set out for Persia.
He's got all the power and smarts and money to send people and things whooshing about the planet. And she's one of those things he sends whooshing about. She's his easily-led dupe.
Or is she? Linus is (much) older and sneakier, but Sabrina still has knowledge that he doesn't about fashion (she teaches him how to wear his hat more jauntily) and about love. When he talks elliptically on their first date about an earlier heartbreak with a former love, she tells him, "Maybe you should go to Paris, Linus."
She lived in that citadel of sophistication for two years; Linus was only there for thirty-five minutes changing planes… which is why he needs her to teach him French during one of their dances together.
LINUS: How do you say in French my brother has a lovely girl? […] And how do you say I wish I were my brother?
Sabrina is teaching Linus to flirt with her in French (that language of love).
If Linus is sort of Sabrina's mentor, she's also sort of his. Neither is an innocent; being in love means they get to teach and change each other. This May/ December romance is surprisingly egalitarian, and we're betting it stays that way. After all, we leave Linus and Sabrina as they're on their way to Paris, where Sabrina knows the language and the lay of the land and Linus is practically helpless.
Yup. We'll take this fairy tale over Cinderella any day of the week.