No Reservations

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            In a time when our culture has lost both its ethical surface and its core, what could be a more fitting distraction than an American fairy tale? “No Reservations” is just such a thing, the perfect diversion with a happy beginning, middle, and end in the company of some lovely people.

            This thoroughly American tale is a remake of the original German version “Mostly Martha,” which was also excellent. We see everything coming and have no need for surprise. That’s the point, isn’t it? If it weren’t for Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin, it would be too good not only to be true but too good to be even a fairy tale. Each of them manages a performance that is individual but harmonious with the whole. Just watching them makes you smile and yet they manage to avoid turning the movie into sugar or a sappy soap; they have created a real fairy tale.

            As all fairy tales must, this one springs from a tragedy. The news of her sister’s death in a car crash is delivered to Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in the kitchen of the restaurant where she is head chef and backstage queen of the establishment owned by Paula (Patricia Clarkson in the role of the professional heavy). This passionate food artist who lives for her kitchen suddenly inherits her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). She can make magic with saffron but has no instinct for her new preteen.

            While Kate does her inadequate best to juggle her beloved job and her new family, her kitchen is invaded by Nick (Aaron Eckhart), a chef who asked Paula for a job in order to study at the master’s knee. If Nick is a fine chef in his own right, his natural gift is his instinct for the needs of the frightened young Zoe. And so the movie unfolds. A sweet guy (if you can forget the character he played in “In the Company of Men), a dear little girl (remember “Little Miss Sunshine.”) and a gorgeous chef who needs to be brought round and will be. On the road to resolution, watch for the living room picnic on the floor by the fire – all about color and the creation of a spell.

            Catherine Zeta-Jones is breathtakingly beautiful as the New Yorker who lives in a walk up apartment near the Bleecker Street restaurant. Her Kate is uncompromising in her professional perfectionism – and yet not arrogant. Each time she dons her chef’s apron and rolls the waist, we are watching Aphrodite. She stands, walks, and dresses with consummate but gentle confidence. Eckhart’s Nick wins her heart with kindness and love, a rough hewn prince with a heart of butter. Abigail Breslin gives us sadness and joy without overdoing it – a real accomplishment for such a young actress. And that’s what this is all about: a Manhattan fairy tale offered up by three appealing lonely people who belong together.


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