No Reservations Movie Review
Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Kate, a control-freak chef so tightly wound it's a wonder she doesn't pop in the steam of her kitchen. Despite her position as reigning queen of the Manhattan foodie set, her killer West Village apartment, and the fact that she looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kate is a sad sack; she does not really exist outside of her job and her employer-ordered therapy (Kate also has a temper, see, when anyone, customers included, question her perfection).
Charming romantic comedy conventions intervene for Kate, however, when her sister dies suddenly, leaving Kate to care for her wide-eyed, mini-bohemian 10-year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) at the same time that a larger-than-life sous chef, who impossibly seems to be able to cook well and enjoy life, gets a job in Kate's kitchen. Nick (Aaron Eckhart, doing what almost seems to be a Gerard Depardieu impression for some unknown, albeit charming, reason) pushes all of Kate's buttons and instantly hits it off with Zoe, and thus begins Kate's transition from uptight headcase to romantic comedy lead.
There is clearly nothing here to tax any acting muscles, and while Eckhart, for one, has proven himself capable of more, he still plays the sweetly endearing Mr. Perfect with visible ease. Zeta-Jones is looking a bit tired here, but is still just fine as a very sad and restrained woman. It's nice to have a strong support cast, too, even if their talents are all completely unnecessary. Folks like Patricia Clarkson and Bob Balaban, as the restaurant owner and psychiatrist, respectively, really have no reason to be here save the paycheck, but they are welcome nonetheless.
For all the times that No Reservations is utterly conventional and predictable, it is kind enough to sidestep the contrived complications that often litter the genre -- Zoe is a little girl in mourning, but she isn't acting like a devil child out to destroy Aunt Kate. (Plus, it helps that Breslin is the most adorable, realistic child actor out there. She would take Dakota Fanning in an act-off cage match any day.) Even the cookie cutter romance isn't plagued by wacky, trite misunderstandings to veer it off course.
This is not to say the movie doesn't take advantage of convenient plot devices -- a controlling star chef working at a restaurant with a hands-on and bossy owner all up in her business defies logic. And while there are numerous problems a single woman working an executive chef's hours in Manhattan would face by suddenly becoming a parent to a tween girl, finding adequate, accommodating childcare when she has the money to shell out for it? Is not one of them. Perhaps it comes from changing the locale -- Reservations is based on a German comedy, Mostly Martha, and the finer points may have been more palatable in the original setting.
But even as Reservations kept in may of Martha's finer points, it's missing the inherent charm of the original. It is a sweet enough genre piece, but what prevents it from being more is a lack of wonder or magic to make it truly likeable. Even this summer's earlier foodfest Ratatouille showed more passion for the gourmet, by a cartoon rat no less, than Kate ever does -- she seems to cook out of drive, never out of true love. It's funny enough, but not particularly endearing, and it takes more than sappy montages set to music and a jaunty scene involving a bicycle built for three to build up any real feeling for the characters.
Didn't you see Fight Club?