Sitting down to write this review, I wasn’t sure whether I was a film critic or a restaurant critic. In No Reservations the two are closely allied—the food is, essentially, an extra character. Indeed, if the response from the audience I saw it with is anything to go by, the tiramisu would win all the awards for best performance they could hand out (there was an audible oooh as Aaron Eckhart peeled back the lid. Take a note guys—this is what a woman really wants!).
Which is not to say that the human leads aren’t appealing or that the film’s only redeeming quality is the food. The film’s central problem is that it’s not quite sure what it’s trying to be. It’ll get put under the traditional heading of romantic comedy, but it’s never actually funny so half of that isn’t true. It’s not overly dramatic, original or flashy either—but that doesn’t make it bad. To borrow a metaphor from Forrest Gump (and believe me, I’m ashamed of it too), life is like a restaurant menu. Sometimes you want something satisfying like steak (go see Atonement) and sometimes you want something quick, easy and light, like cheese on toast or tiramisu. Readers of these blogs will know I like light and easy a lot and this film does fit the bill. It won’t change your life, but it’s a sweet guilty pleasure for a wet afternoon.
Catherine Zeta Jones plays Kate, a successful and single-minded chef whose perfectly ordered life is thrown into chaos when her sister is killed and she has to raise her niece (the always excellent Abigail Breslin). It’s thrown into further disorder by the arrival of Nick (an adorable Aaron Eckhart), the opera-loving, spontaneous chef who’s covering for her. Standing in line for the Ladies after the film (you want honest reviews of films, that’s the place to get them), many of the women wanted to know what was wrong with being a control freak and indeed, I would have thought it an essential trait for a chef (she also has to see a therapist about her anger-management issues, but anyone who’s seen Gordon Ramsay in action knows how likely that is).
I don’t know if Miss Zeta Jones is just getting older or whether it was a conscious decision to dim her dazzling beauty, but, whichever it was, it goes a long way to making Martha more accessible. However, the character isn’t particularly likeable and has to make too many compromises to achieve her happy ending. Mr Eckhardt is an attractive leading man, but the character’s over-loud opera sessions and insistence on being spontaneous would drive you mad fairly quickly. And he’s nowhere near as attractive as the tiramisu!
The story’s pretty predictable and not done anywhere near as charmingly as in Kate Hudson’s Raising Helen. There’s not really enough pace or high and low points in any of the relationships to make it really satisfying, however. Perhaps the problem is that it’s an Americanisation of a German idea (check out Mostly Martha), a technique that always tends to make the end result blander.
Under no circumstances, go and see this film before you eat. You’ll be utterly distracted by the mouth-watering goodies on display, from the aforementioned dessert to quail and pasta. And I do hope somebody sees this film and takes on board the idea of sending diners home with little boxes of dessert. Genius!