Sunday, August 19, 2012

Only Reservations About No Reservations, An Obvious, Sub-par Romantic Comedy

The Good: Looks good, Decent cast
The Bad: Poor use of good acting talent, Predictable story and character arcs, Not funny, Pacing.
The Basics: A surprisingly disappointing outing with cooking and Aaron Eckhart (two things that biased me TOWARD the movie), No Reservations sinks.

I watch a lot of movies, more since I started reviewing, but before that I used to watch movies for fun. I used to also enjoy watching a lot of television series' on DVD . . . before becoming a reviewer. In film and television, I have noticed, there are very few works that actually deal with cooking. In the movies, there are films set in places where cooking takes place, like Clerks II (reviewed here!), but remarkably few movies where people spend time cooking. The world of professional chefs has been glossed over in the short-lived television series' Kitchen Confidential and Chef! (reviewed here!). So, when I had the opportunity to watch No Reservations recently, I was pretty psyched because I heard that it was a romantic comedy about cooks.

If anything, I went into No Reservations with a bias for the work. The film starred Catherine Zeta-Jones who is pretty easy on the eyes and the immensely talented Aaron Eckhart who has not been praised nearly enough for his work in The Dark Knight (reviewed here!). But then, I watched No Reservations and it has taken me days to get up the enthusiasm to write about the experience because it was such a standard romantic comedy. Anyone who has seen a lot of movies and who loves films has seen this before. A lot.

Kate is a high-strung chef at one of New York City's most trendy and expensive restaurants. She is obsessive compulsive and cooking is her life, which makes her ideal for the elite cooking marketplace. Unfortunately for her, when her sister and niece are driving to see her for a visit, they are in a terrible accident and Kate's sister is killed and she becomes the guardian of Zoe. Zoe is young, misses her mother, and Kate is hardly in a place (emotionally) to raise her.

After taking the minimum amount of time her boss demands she take off following the death of her sister, Kate returns to work to discover Nick is working her job in the kitchen. Nick is talented and qualified, but his style is more laid back (he has music on in the kitchen!) and about the experience of cooking, as opposed to simply the results. Nick and Zoe bond almost immediately, much to Kate's chagrin and soon Kate is finding Nick's merit as a chef and lover.

No Reservations is exactly as it sounds: a romantic comedy where the child becomes the reason two people hook up. As a result, there are contrived concepts that have been done to death in the movies, like Zoe creating situations for Nick and Kate to spend time together and the inevitable "Zoe runs away, leaving Nick and Kate to find her" scene that seems like a standard the moment one has a young person trying to get two adults together.

The thing that doesn't make much sense is the character of Zoe. The argument can be made that she is striving to get Kate and Nick together to recreate the ideal family of mother, father and her. The thing is, she never had that. Her father split long ago according to the earliest scenes and so on some level she ought to be used to the single mother routine, even more than Kate would be. So, Zoe's seeming dependence upon Kate and Nick ending up together for her happiness seems far-fetched and problematic. One could argue that this represents the greatest opportunity for Zoe as far as wish fulfillment for a "normal," stable family, but it does not come across that way in No Reservations. Instead, it just seems sloppy and generic characterization and Zoe comes across more as a brat than traumatized.

No Reservations is not, truly, a cooking movie, though it does feature people cooking at various points in the film, as well as people eating. For those who love food, there is something to be said for the direction in the film. Scott Hicks directs the film well and presents a very sensual looking film. The food throughout looks edible and sumptuous and it's an easy film to watch in terms of the look of the movie.

Unfortunately, that's the best I've got for it. No Reservations is boring and its characters are hardly as mature or well-developed as one might want. Instead, this is a film trading on casting and it is an unfortunate use for virtually everyone involved. Patricia Clarkson is decent as Paula and Bob Balaban is stuck in the role of therapist playing it like we have seen him play so many other (similar) roles. And Abigail Breslin embodies Zoe, clearly trading on her popularity as a child actor in a very tight market at what might well be her peak years. Her performance is not the best one we've seen from her.

In addition to making all of the food and locations look good, director Scott Hicks deserves some real credit: he has the ability to make Aaron Eckhart bland. Eckhart's performance is the most dull I've ever seen from him. He was cast for his smile, no doubt, but the spark that defines his energy is completely lacking in No Reservations. It is almost like he knew he was stuck in a romantic comedy that had been done to death and he was playing an archetype as opposed to a character.

At least Eckhart had some talent to seriously compromise. Catherine Zeta-Jones might - most of the roles I have seen her in she is used for her physicality more than her Thespian qualities. In No Reservations, her part is pretty much relegated to pouting and staring blankly at the screen in shock as a vague expression of her character being lost. It flops horribly for her. Zeta-Jones fails to make an emotional connection with the audience before she begins these dazed looks and it further slows down the pacing of the film. If Eckhart is bland as Nick, Zeta-Jones is whatever state of uber-boring is beyond that as Kate.

The end result is a film that is not funny enough to be a comedy, not romantic enough to be a romance and too predictable to have any real dramatic tension. This was a surprise to me; unfortunately, not a pleasant one.

For other films with Abigail Breslin, please check out my reviews of:
Definitely, Maybe
The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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