No Reservations

Scott Hicks

Dieters beware: those of you counting calories, carbs or cholesterol stats may want to avoid No Reservations unless viewing it (as I prescribe) on a full stomach. For only moments into the film, as head chef Kate (Catherine Zeta Jones) describes some of her most scrumptiously exquisite recipes to the psychiatrist her employer has forced her to see (Bob Balaban), your mouth will begin to water. While this remake of Sandra Nettelbeck’s 2001 German film Mostly Martha will suffer by comparison in the minds of audience members who have seen the original film, No Reservations still makes for a delectable if slightly chilly and contrived diversion from the testosterone overload of summertime cinema. After her sister dies in a tragic car accident, the obsessive Kate who runs her life like she does her kitchen in an upscale New York restaurant for owner Patricia Clarkson finds herself the unlikely caretaker of her niece Zoe (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin). Shine and Snow Falling on Cedars director Scott Hicks does an excellent job of handling the adaption completed by screenwriter Carol Fuchs that helps incorporate more of the immediate after effects and stages of Zoe’s move to New York that were absent in the original, helping to provide more background for the audience. Luckily, the melancholy moments are lifted and replaced by romantic tension when Kate returns to work only to find wild opera-loving, chef Nick (the always memorable and handsome Aaron Eckhart) filling in for Kate during her absence and cracking up the staff with jokes and Pavarotti, much to her dismay. Eckhart’s entrance in the film is memorable and although the chemistry between the leads lacks a bit, they try hard and Eckhart seems more at ease in his role, having trained for three months in an upscale kitchen according to TV's Extra, as opposed to the reported single night of preparation completed by Zeta Jones as listed on IMDB. However, Zeta Jones is a consummate actress and she is a master at defining the cool and calculating Kate in the way the role needs. She tries her hardest in supplying the film with more emotional depth, although for some reason, we never fully buy her relationship with Zoe, try as both actresses might to make it work and indeed, more scenes of interaction between the two are served up in the Hollywood version than in Nettlebeck’s. Instead, despite some cute moments when she bonds in the kitchen with Nick and tries to play matchmaker for her aunt, Zoe feels like a convenient plot device in the film or in some of the worst scenes, about as believable as Jennifer Lopez’s daughter in Enough, which some critics likened to a piece of luggage being toted from scene to scene without any real sense of familial intimacy. While, as mentioned earlier, the film is provided with more opportunities that try to gain sympathy to the plight of the trio and the ending is wisely changed from the original one which incorporated a search for Zoe’s estranged biological daughter (a plotline completely absent from the remake), it’s instead inserted with a predictable Hollywood ending that, all in all, goes down quite well… like a fluffy dessert created with precision by Kate and with love from Nick.