No Reservations (2007) dir. Scott Hicks
Starring: Catherin Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson
Remember that restaurant-themed romantic-comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart? I could barely remember it even though it only came out last summer, and on DVD this February. The marketing campaign screamed throwaway romantic comedy. In fact, “No Reservations” is based on the 2001 German film “Mostly Martha”, and many of the criticisms (an unwarranted 39% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes) were in comparison to the original. Since I hadn’t seen the original, it was a fresh experience for me. "No Reservations" is actually a really good film, a rare intelligent ‘drama’ (not romantic comedy) featuring a strong female lead character.
Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is an executive chef at an esteemed Manhattan restaurant. Her career has trumped any family aspirations. She is single but living her self-important ‘Sex and the City lifestyle. When her sister dies in a tragic car accident she becomes the legal guardian of her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin), which quickly turns her life upside down. Though she tries her best, mothering is difficult. She forgets to pick Zoe up from school, feeds her haute cuisine dishes instead of kid-friendly meals and often leaves her alone in her apartment while she’s working at the restaurant.
Adding fuel to her discontent is a new sous chef who filled in for Kate during her grieving period. Nick (Aaron Eckhart) has quickly made himself comfortable in the kitchen and ingratiated himself with the staff more than Kate ever could. He’s also impossibly goodlooking and charming. Kate tries her best to antagonize him, but just can’t help herself from falling in love. Of course, with love comes some pain too, especially with the two working closely together. When Nick’s career goals eventually conflict with Kate’s each of them must make a crucial life-changing decision for the good of them and Zoe.
Watch the opening credits carefully, because it’s none other than Phillip Glass who scores the film. I thought Mr. Glass was picky about his projects? I don’t know the man but going by his work he seems to choose films with either a clear artistic direction, or a subject close to his heart (ie. his work with Tibet). If “No Reservations” has the stamp of approval of Phillip Glass, it’s good enough for me. Though it’s not “the Hours” or “Kundun”, Glass has chosen an intelligent and entertaining film to collaborate with.
Scott Hicks directed the film. Remember him? He was once a coveted director after his successful Aussie film “Shine”. A couple of failures later (“Hearts in Atlantis” and “Snow Falling on Cedars”) he dropped off the buzz radar. Though it’s more conventional than his other films, he’s still has a talent for storytelling and character. It’s a fine looking film too. The anamorphic widescreen frame opens up the small confines of Kate's restaurant kitchen and apartment locations.
The DVD cover sets the wrong tone for the film. It's a shame. Hicks is clear to establish a melancholy and reflective mood. The tragedy in the first act never leaves the film. The presence of Zoe reminds us of Kate’s loss and the importance of her decisions in the present.
If anything Aaron Eckhart’s character is too perfect. He’s an idealized partner for Kate – no such person in Manhattan exists (especially in the cutthroat restaurant business), but Nick's purpose is to challenge Kate and force herself to change for the better. Don't let this smart and entertaining film disappear, you will be surprised. Enjoy.