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 (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 grieve leave, no less), the energetic and trendy Nick (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 after lusting for some of Kate’s amazing cuisine.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: PG for some sensuality and language.
Theatrical Release: July 27, 2007
Directed by: Scott Hicks
Written by: Carol Fuchs & Sandra Nettelbeck.
Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jenny Wade, Bob Balaban