No Reservations is an example of how a movie can be both predictable and pleasant at the same time. There’s nothing in this story that you haven’t seen before, and you’ll know everything that’s going to happen long before it does, yet it’s all done with such charm and style that you won’t care.
Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Kate Armstrong, the anal-retentive chef at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. She’s so defensive about her cooking that when a customer complains that his steak is overcooked, she slaps a slab of raw meat on his plate. When her sister dies in a car accident, Kate receives custody of her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Having a child in her apartment constitutes a major life change that she is ill-equipped to deal with.
Making it worse is that the restaurant has brought in a new sous chef named Nick Palmer (Aaron Eckhart). Nick is thrilled to be working under such an accomplished chef as Kate, but she resents his intrusion into “her” kitchen. It turns out that Nick is actually pretty good with kids. He encourages the withdrawn Zoe to come out of her shell and, in the process, teaches Kate how to be a little more freewheeling. Love, of course, blossoms.
Does this sound like it came straight from the Romantic Comedy Playbook? Perhaps, but what’s good about No Reservations is that it doesn’t play like a standard rom-com. For starters, the film is darker than you might expect. Kate and Zoe are genuinely wounded people – for different reasons – and the story takes their pain seriously. Watching the DVD with my wife, she was moved to comment that she didn’t know the movie would “so sad.” I don’t know if “sad” is the exact right word because No Reservations is definitely a feel-good movie; I’d be more inclined to term it “realistic.” This is the rare romantic comedy in which the characters live in the real world and have real problems, as opposed to living in some romantic fantasyland.
Kate and Nick, meanwhile, share a prototypical “meet cute,” but their relationship doesn’t feel like a contrivance. Instead, director Scott Hicks (Shine) takes the time to show us how Nick penetrates Kate’s icy surface through patience, sincerity, and affection. The attraction between them grows a lot more organically than in most of the dime-a-dozen screen romances that come out these days.
This is what happens when you cast real actors in the genre. Instead of casting the TV hottie of the month and a generic stud muffin in these roles, the filmmakers have used actors who know how to provide the characters with some emotional weight. Zeta-Jones and Eckhart bring nice, complex shades to Kate and Nick, and they are ably assisted by Abigail Breslin, who proves that her accolades for Little Miss Sunshine were no fluke.
Setting the story in and around a kitchen was an interesting idea. I don’t know much about cooking, but what’s on screen felt pretty authentic to me. It’s a different locale for a rom-com, a nice change from the TV studios, fashion magazines, and ad agencies we’re used to. The screenplay cleverly works food into the interactions between characters, as best exemplified by a scene in which Nick gets Zoe to try some new food.
Like I said, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. But there’s an old saying about how the journey is more important than the destination. The journey in No Reservations felt fresh to me. Combine a trio of good performances, a dash of reality, and a sprinkle of behind-the-scenes-in-a-four-star-kitchen drama, and you end up with a terrifically sweet concoction.
( out of four)
No Reservations is presented on DVD in your choice of widescreen and fullscreen formats. Widescreen is the preferred option, especially given the movie’s 2.35:1 “scope” aspect ratio.
The disc contains only one extra feature: an episode of the Food Network’s “Unwrapped” that is devoted to the making of the film. The program provides entertaining interviews with the three major cast members, as well as a recipe for blueberry pancakes that will make you hungry while you watch.
No Reservations is also available on Blu-Ray. The HD-DVD edition will be released on March 4.
No Reservations is rated PG for some sensuality and language. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.
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