Warning! This site contains satire, cynical adult humor, celebrity gossip, and an occasional peanut by-product or two!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

No Reservations

I have absolutely No Reservations about recommending the wonderful No Reservations now playing at the Essex Cinemas, and that surprises even me.

When the trailer for this romance first appeared a few months ago, I felt like I saw the entire movie in the three minute glimpse it presented on-screen. Don’t you hate when studios do that? It seems completely counterproductive at enticing potential audiences to come see a movie when they already know where it is all going to end. That’s how I saw it with this one.

In the trailer it was obvious that the story was a simple one: Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Legend of Zorro) plays an executive chef who inherits her ten-year-old niece, Abigail Breslin (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause), after her sister dies, and then her life is romantically turned around by the introduction of fellow chef Aaron Eckhart (The Black Dahlia), who enchants the sullen girl and wins her heart, and thus the frosty Zeta-Jones in the process. That was all tied up in less time than it takes to gobble down a Twizzler, so I figured sitting through the two hour version would be a drag. However, for you, Dear Readers, I got off my cross, taped up the holes where the nail holes are (it makes eating the Reese’s Pieces a nightmare otherwise) and went in to give it a look-see.

What a delight it is to be wrong in this case! The tale is pretty much as I summarized, but the key to this story is not in the plot or the action, but in the delicious characters and the chemistry director Scott Hicks (Hearts in Atlantis) creates in the casting of Zeta-Jones and Eckhart. Together, they generate heat that one rarely sees in films today. They manage to take scenes that lesser actors would simply see as a couple of coworkers cooking together and instead infuse them with highly-charged sexual energy by inserting a half-smile, a glance, or a barely observable nod of the head.

The story begins with Kate’s almost erotic description of cooking quail, love birds as she describes them, to her therapist, played with his typical deadpan expression by Bob Balaban
(Lady in the Water). It is obvious early on that Kate’s world in limited to the kitchen and any questions about life outside the topics of food and cooking are things she can’t handle, even in counseling. Even there she is much more comfortable preparing haute cuisine for her therapist than talking with him. This, of course, sets the scene for the unraveling to come, and when it does in the form of her now orphaned niece Zoe, Kate knows of no other way to react to her sister’s death and her new role as guardian but to go to work and cook, at least until Paula (Patricia Clarkson; All the King’s Men), the owner of the restaurant, sends her home on a forced leave of absence.

That’s also when Paula brings Nick on board as a temporary replacement and the kitchen goes from being a nail-biting terror ride every night to a party with opera-singing and music while the crew cooks. The only music anyone ever heard when Kate came near the kitchen was the “Wicked Witch’s Theme” from The Wizard of Oz, but that only played in all the cooks’ heads when they saw her approaching.

Well, naturally, it is hate at first sight for Kate even
though Nick professes to have taken the job only because it has been a dream of his to work with her since her reputation is so stellar. Yeah, as soon as he said that, I heard his voice change to the whiny sound of “Eddie Haskell” from the old “Leave It To Beaver” tv show. What an ass kiss. And it doesn’t work either. The only thing that does is his genuine affection for Zoe, and his ability to feed her, a talent Kate hasn’t been able to master with her exotic dishes.

In the midst of the romantic teeter tottering between the grown-ups, the real standout performance comes from Abigail Breslin, who, at eleven, is already an
Academy Award nominee (for Little Miss Sunshine). Wow! What a nuanced and painfully realistic portrayal she offers as the orphaned Zoe. In addition to coping with a new home, a new school, and a new surrogate mother, Zoe is also faced with the fragility of the relationship between Kate and Nick, a fact neither adult takes into consideration. Zoe has never had a father before, and Nick makes for a great role-filler, so when things go wonky between him and Kate, the impact on Zoe is devastating.

So much of her world seems to be taken for granted by these two adults who are unfamiliar with what it takes to be a parent. If the story lacks a moment of reality I’d say it stumbles when we continue to see Kate regularly visit her therapist (with a fantastic office, by the way) and yet it never seems to occur to her that maybe, just maybe, her niece might need to talk with someone about the traumas she’s recently been through.

One of the nice throwbacks you’ll find in No Reservations is that romance here is actually romantic and not gratuitously sexual or near pornographic. I know I said the principles burn up the celluloid with their sexual heat, but they do it like Gable and Leigh did in Gone With The Wind or even Hepburn and Bogart in The African Queen. They’re steamy but they keep their clothes on throughout, and when sex does happen it is behind closed doors with the camera fading to black, returning the following day when everybody is dressed and (dare
you guess?) cooking once again (and by “cooking” I mean as in preparing food for a meal). That’s a rarity in movies these days, where skin is a commodity as much as youth and beauty. Now that I write that, though, I have to pause and give realization to the fact that Zeta-Jones is approaching 37, which in Hollywood years are almost double those as dog years. Sometimes it is hard to keep track of her place in the Hollywood milieu because she is usually attached to that grotesquerie she is married to, and, let’s face it, next to Michael Douglas even Peter O’Toole looks like a pup. It’s a great trick at premieres and such, but when it comes to actual casting, Catherine is competing with the plasticized princesses of the next generation, and she’s pretty much relying on talent these days as much as beauty, though she’s still got plenty of the latter despite the Hollywood embargo on women past 30. Thank God for her talent, which burns bright here, as does Eckhart’s, who has deserved a much higher visibility career for a long time. His doppelganger resemblance to that other blonde actor, Thomas Jane (The Punisher), may have caused more than a few moviegoers to confuse the two over the years, but hopefully No Reservations will help clear up the problem. If this doesn’t, next year’s The Dark Knight will definitely put him on the “A List” as he will be starring as the villainous “Two-Face” in this next Batman installment.

Delicious is the best way to describe
No Reservations. It’s frothy, tangy, and rich and will leave you feeling warm inside and with a smile on the outside. There are lots of choices to be found right now at the Essex Cinemas, but this surprising truffle is an adult’s treat in the middle of the field of kids’ entertainment that overwhelms the summer months each year. Do yourself a favor and don’t let this one slip by you.

No comments: