Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kate Armstrong
Aaron Eckhart as Nick
Abigail Breslin as Zoe
Jenny Wade as Leah
Brian F. O’Byrne as Sean
Patricia Clarkson as Paula
Lily Rabe as Bernadette
Fulvio Cecere as Bob, The Fish Vendor
Yevgeniy Dekhtyar as Truffle Merchant
Ramon Fernandez as Carlos
Sam Kitchin as Mr. Mathews
Zoe Kravitz as the babysitter
Mario Morales as Line Cook Mario
Matthew Rauch as Ken
Directed by Scott Hicks
Charming and endearing at times, mainly due to Eckhart, “No Reservations” is a competent but uneven renovation of “Mostly Martha” without the magic that made it so special.
Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is the compulsive and tough head chef at a prestigious West Village restaurant who finds her life turned upside-down when her sister dies in a car crash and her daughter Zoe (Abigail Breslin) is put in Kate’s care. On top of that, her boss (Patricia Clarkson) has hired a flamboyant sous chef (Aaron Eckhart) who has his own ways of running a kitchen.
Seeing “Mostly Martha” the original German movie by Sandra Nettlebeck on which this movie is based might put one at a disadvantage while watching “No Reservations.” Other than the general premise, they’re two very different movies, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a movie that comes off a bit saccharine in its humor and a bit forced in its drama.
Essentially, the movie is made-up of two stories, both centered around Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character Kate, a hardworking woman driven by her career as a head chef who’s all work and little play, pushing her workers to produce better food and rebuffing the obvious interest from a neighbor. When Kate’s sister dies in a car accident, she finds herself having to take care for her feisty young niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin aka “Little Miss Sunshine”) and while she deals with personal family issues, her boss brings in a boisterous opera-singing sous chef named Nick (Aaron Eckhart) to help out in the kitchen. Kate’s troubles connecting with the young girl and getting her to eat is compounded by Nick’s unconventional kitchen manner, but when she brings Zoe to work, the young girl immediately hits it off with Nick and decides to play matchmaker between the two feuding chefs.
It’s obvious that director Scott Hicks of “Shine” fame didn’t want to simply remake Nettlebeck’s film, and he does a good job transplanting the story into New York City. Kate is very much like many Type A city women, working hard and not wanting to be distracted by a personal life, using her weekly therapy sessions (at the behest of her boss) to cook for the psychiatrist rather than get help. It also captures the restaurant and foodie scene that’s so pervasive in New York with a visual flair that never intrudes or distracts from the story, but does a lot to make every scene look great.
The comedy aspects of the movie aren’t particularly revelatory, mostly involving Kate and Nick “meeting cute” as they hash out their differences. Aaron Eckhart makes the most of every scene he’s in, always being charming and funny, probably why he’s also the best part of the movie as the type of romantic lead that ladies will certainly love. Unfortunately, he’s not in every scene and far too much of the movie focuses on the relationship between Kate and Zoe, as they try to connect and overcome the grief of their loss. These scenes tend to be overly dramaticBreslin sheds a tear in most of themand they really drag the movie down to a dreary place at times when it should be reveling in the humor or romance.
It isn’t as bad as other romantic comedies in the sense that its spine really is the serious issue of losing a loved one and Zeta-Jones and Eckhart certainly have an appealing romantic chemistry that you want to see flourish. The thing is that the original movie handled the transition between the drama and humor much more fluidly, and though many of the key points still come across, it’s hard to get past the fact that it’s essentially the same story but filtered through producers and the Hollywood system. That last part creates a bigger problem because it’s hard to get past the fact you’re watching Zeta-Jones, Eckhart and Abigail Breslin on screen, since they all have such prominent personas that often overpower their characters. Meanwhile, Bob Balaban and Patricia Clarkson coast along in supporting roles as Kate’s therapist and boss, offering a few laughs and obstacles on Kate’s journey, but nothing particularly groundbreaking compared to past roles.
The Bottom Line:
“No Reservations” doesn’t redefine modern cinema and it probably won’t leave any sort of lasting impact on anyone with its weak humor and heavy drama, but it’s a generally charming and pleasant film with a decent story that only suffers from the fact that it isn’t able to recapture the magic that made the original German movie so special. If you haven’t seen “Mostly Martha” but enjoy reasonably tame romantic dramedy, than “No Reservations” should fit the bill just fine.
No Reservations will sneak preview in select cities on Saturday night, July 21.