No Reservations succeeds because of one of the performance by its two Oscar nominated females. No, it’s not Catherine Zeta Jones as the control freak chef who makes this one worth while, it’s the sweet performance of eleven-year-old Abigail Breslin, a child actress so unpretentious and natural that she steals every scene she’s in. Audiences loved her as Little Miss Sunshine and she is the reason to go and see No Reservations.
In this remake of the marvelous German film Mostly Martha, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Kate Armstrong, a well-respected chef at a trendy New York City bistro who adopts her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) after her mother is killed in a car accident. Kate’s entire reason for being is the kitchen, and the new-found role of mom disrupts her carefully arranged life. She also seriously lacks kid skills. For their first meal together Kate serves Zoe a fish, complete with the head. In her restaurant it probably sells for $35. The problem is you couldn’t pay a kid to eat it.
When the owner of her restaurant brings in a new sous chef in the form of the boisterous Nick Palmer (Aaron Eckhart) sparks fly—both professionally and romantically.
The odd couple doesn’t mesh at first, but this is a romantic comedy, so soon enough rivalry becomes romance and they bond over food and their shared affection for Zoe. Kate struggles to figure out that there is no perfect recipe for life and to find true happiness she must look past her four burner.
Zeta-Jones and Eckhart are perfectly acceptable romantic leads for a film like this. She’s gorgeous, he’s blandly handsome, but they don’t seem to have much in the way of romantic chemistry. Better are the kitchen scenes where they prepare beautiful, expensive food with the care and precision usually ascribed to diamond cutters or heart surgeons. The pair only seem to have any real connection on screen when they are ladling sauces.
The connective tissue here, the thing that brings it all together is Breslin, a scene stealer with expressive eyes and a knack for underplaying her roles. She’s so effective because she seems like a real kid and not the Hollywood version of what a kid in her situation might be like. There’s not a precocious moment in her performance.
No Reservations director Scott Hicks is best known for making big serious movies like Shine and Hearts of Atlantis, and he struggles here. The movie looks great and has a great sense of place—you’ll want to fly to New York for dinner right after the movie—but his pacing of the paper-thin and obvious opposites attract plot is out of whack. The movie is only an hour and forty-five minutes but feels much longer.
No Reservations—come for the story, stay for Abigail Breslin!