|No Reservations (2007)
Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Scott Hicks
“No Reservations,” a remake of 2001’s “Bella Martha” (“Mostly Martha” here in the States), should have been a standard romantic comedy vehicle and nothing more. All of the ingredients, pardon the pun, are in place: The uptight, independent working woman who desperately needs a change of pace and some substance in her life; the freewheeling guy who shares a common interest and must convince the woman he’s serious; and the little girl who just wants it all to work out. It’s her wish, after all.
In the film, Catherine Zeta-Jones is Kate, master chef at the elegant 22 Bleecker Restaurant in Manhattan. Her life and pride is food, and she’s quite good at her job – unless a customer should speak poorly of her work. As the film opens Kate is awaiting the arrival of her sister and niece, Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Tragedy strikes, however, and Kate’s sister is killed. Zoe is now under Kate’s guardianship, as per her sister’s wishes. On top of that, Kate’s restaurant has hired a new chef (during Kate’s bereavement leave, no less), the energetic and trendy Nick (Aaron Eckhart). Kate now has a whole new life to live – and lessons to learn.
The screenplay by Carol Fuchs and Sandra Nettelbeck carefully straddles the line between lighthearted and affecting. The setup is so downtrodden that I feared that the film would not recover, no matter the success of the comedy. Fortunately, the above-average performances combined with some well-scripted comedic moments takes “No Reservations” to an above-average level.
Catherine Zeta-Jones carries the film admirably. Her acting skills have always been a bit suspect in my mind, but here she plays the ups and downs very well. She manages to come across as an authority figure without it feeling overplayed, but also has a soft spot that shines through when necessary. Her interplay with Aaron Eckhart is winning, particularly in the early scenes when Eckhart is singing opera and prancing around the kitchen like a madman. This is a great role for Eckhart, as he is a master of dry humor mixed with sentimentality. Abigail Breslin, the finest young actress in the business, once again nails down a complicated, emotional role.
Sure, it has some cheesy moments and a way-too-convenient ending, but it means well and has a poignant core that feels true to itself. This is a sweet, even fragile, film that is a nice change of pace for the season. The performances are excellent and the comedy well-balanced with the unexpectedly affecting drama. At the very least, you will leave hungry for some of Kate’s amazing cuisine.
I wouldn’t expect fans of “No Reservations” to care about the DVD’s lack of bonus material, but it’s still disappointing that Warner Bros. hasn’t even bothered with putting any together. The sole extra on the single-disc release is an episode of the Food Network series “UnWrapped,” and while it’s been disguised to operate as a making-of featurette, it’s mostly just promotional fluff for the daytime addict.