No Reservations

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
No Reservations
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) rules the roost in the kitchen at trendy Manhattan bistro, 22 Bleeker. She is also a control freak ordered by her boss, restaurant-owner Paula (Patricia Clarkson) to see a psychotherapist. Aside from that, everything is OK for the hard-working chef. However, Kate's rigidly structured life is about to take a decisive turn when personal and professional crises crash down upon her in "No Reservations."

Scripter Carol Fuchs adapts, note for note, the engaging 2001 screenplay of writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck's charmingly entertaining "Mostly Martha." (Go to my review on our website for a synopsis of the screenplay.  It is nearly identical to what I would write about "No Reservations." This faithful adaptation of its source is high praise for a remake.

Director Scott Hicks takes his adapted material - "Mostly Martha" takes place in Hamburg, Germany and the romantic interest is a real Italian chef - and brings it to NYC for its Americanization. The story, like its predecessor, begins with Kate describing the exacting preparation of one of her signature dishes. She is not talking to a client, though; she is talking to her shrink (Bob Balaban).

Later, she gets a call from her sister, Christine (Anja Baraikis), that see and her daughter, Zo (Abigail Breslin), are on their way to visit. Fate takes a hand when Kate gets a phone call at the restaurant that a terrible accident has happened. She finds herself thrust into the role of guardian for Zoë, the only survivor of the tragedy, and it is something that Kate is ill prepared for.

Meanwhile, back at the bistro, very pregnant sous chef Leah (Jenny Wade), will soon be leaving and Paula hires a replacement, Nick Palmer (Aaron Eckhart), who loves all things Italian, from pasta to Pavaroti. Kate is appalled that her boss hired someone for such an important job without consulting her. Where Kate want her kitchen to run efficiently (and quietly), Nick likes to have his CD of "Madame Butterfly" cranked up and get the kitchen staff to join him in exuberant song. For Kate, it is like mixing oil and water. It ain't gonna happen.

On the home front, though, Kate is faring even worse. Zoë will not eat any of the elaborate meals she prepares and the aunt does not know how to deal with a grieving 8-year old. When the child-sitting issue turns into a fiasco, Kate decides to take Zoë with her to work. The decision, at least in part, is a good one when Nick subtly entices Zoë to eat a bowl of his tomato and basil pasta. Kate sees that there is more to the man than singing and having fun in the kitchen. The three begin to spend more and more time together and they begin to bond as a family unit.

Of course, if this happily-ever-situation ended "No Reservations," then the film would have been about an hour long. As in the original, the owner of the bistro again goes behind Kate's back, offering Nick her job. The rift this creates helps to flesh the film out to feature length. Just as in "Mostly Martha," the remake borrows for both food movies - its predecessor, the marvelous gastronomic visuals of "Big Night" and others - and single adult coping with taking care of a [you-put-the-age-here]-year old child. "No Reservations" works best when it is in the kitchen.

Helmer Hicks puts together a first class team of behind the camera players with lenser Stuart Dryburgh expertly catching the hubbub of a popular gourmet restaurant kitchen in the heart of Manhattan. The production design, by Barbara Ling beautifully matches and complements Dryburgh's camera and the kitchen scenes, especially, are lush in both look and texture. However, it is the food and its loving preparation (and the rumble it made in my stomach while watching) that are most strikingly visual, palpably stimulating the drool gland. Also, Paolo Conte's great song, "Via Con Me (S'Wunnerful)," used effectively in Mostly Martha, is given play here, along with some terrific Italian opera pieces.

Hicks and company did a decent job casting "No Reservations," with Zeta-Jones and Eckhart providing some nice chemistry in their polar opposite personae. Zeta-Jones, who admits not being able to boil and egg, pulls it off as pro, obsessive chef Kate. Aaron Eckert uses his charming, disarming smile to good affect as the also talented but underachieving Nick. Abigail Breslin does a good job portraying Zoë, a kid who lost one family and is determined to build a new one. The rest of the cast, mainly the kitchen staff, are much more than just stick figures. Bob Balaban, as Kate's therapist, has some nice, amusing moments.

Here is a case for remaking a movie. Very few Americans have heard of "Mostly Martha," never mind seeing that charming little film. A nice story of love, the importance of family and the equal import of responsibility is something that people should see. "No Reservations" makes this possible and a good reason to shell out the bucks to see it at the theatre. It is definitely not aimed at the 17 to 24 male market, that is for sure. I give it a B..

Laura did not see this film.
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