Kiss the chef 

A few weeks back, I tagged along to a smallish engagement party for one of my wife’s friends, and happened to strike up a conversation about contemporary German cinema with a young woman and her husband. Now, naturally, I know next-to-nothing about German cinema, contemporary or otherwise — but what a classy opener, hey? I mean, I s’pose I could’ve been all like, “Triumph of the Will, blah blah, Run Lola Run, yadda yadda, Uwe Boll, homina, homina,” but I didn’t think to.

(Of course, now that I’ve had a moment to refresh my memory `read: scour the internet`, between Lola’s Tom Tykwer `I preferred Perfume, incidentally`, Wolfgang Petersen `Enemy Mine alone commands respect`, 2004’s sadly unseen but searingly memorable Head-On, and Oscar-winner The Lives of Others, I should’ve had mouthfuls to talk about.)

At any rate, all I was able to offer at the time was (1) a recommendation for Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, and  (2) the name of the upcoming American remake of a film the young woman was raving about — Bella Martha (Mostly Martha), a 2001 romantic comedy about the relationship struggles of a control-happy, emotionally isolated chef.

“Looks absolutely terrible,” I added.

And, to be fair, it does. I hadn’t even realized No Reservations was a rehash until I heard my wife’s friend — let’s call ’er Greta — describe the plot of its German progenitor, but by then I’d been so soured already by its bland-yet-goofy poster, its cloyingly chirpy trailer, and perhaps the most maddening title since Because I Said So, that this new knowledge came too late to inspire any real reaction, save for a haughty sniff and an eyeroll.

Indeed, I can’t recall many recent films that, at every step of marketing, have so intensely and concretely solidified my desire to avoid them. And I probably would have tried real hard to do so with this one, had my wife not given me a sugar-sweet smile and said, “Let’s see that.”

So maybe the marketing works after all. Clever bastards.

Meanwhile, lo and behold, there’s nothing at all wrong with No Reservations. It works just fine. I swore up and down that I’d be bored by the rom-com pairing of Zeta-Jones and Eckhart (both of whom are perfectly capable actors, but far more interesting to me in darker `In the Company of Men` or somewhat-less-conventional `High Fidelity` fare); I wasn’t. Zeta-Jones, tasked with carrying the film, is elegant and artfully restrained (no surprise), but vulnerable enough to render introverted chef Kate a bit more (relatable) lonely-but-proud socially maldroit individual than a (less audience-friendly) control-freak misanthrope.

Ten-year-old Breslin, every bit as earnest and adorable here as you’ve come to expect, once again sets sights on heartstrings (and fazers on “liquidate”) as the niece who jostles Kate’s precisely regimented existence. Eckhart, the free-wheelin’ new kitchen addition/polar-opposite love interest, does his job equally well (though the film employs a peculiar strategy of reverting to music-set montage during nearly every Aaron-Eckhart’s-being-charming scene — as opposed to, say, allowing the character to prove he’s charming).

No Reservations is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s enjoyable, and a graceful, better-than-average entrant in a parade of light-drama, heart-in-the-right-place romances. You can do much worse, certainly. And judging from what I’ve seen of Mostly Martha (one YouTube trailer), it’s not all that far from its source material, either.

Have at it, Greta. 


No Reservations
Dir. Scott Hicks; writ. Carol Fuchs, Sandra Nettelbeck; feat. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Bob Balaban (PG)

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