“There is no greater sin than to overcook a quail,” says the melodious voice of the beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kate, the head chef in the romantic dramedy, No Reservations (2007); the lively remake of the hit German film, Mostly Martha (2001). Mostly Martha, or Bella Martha, as it was known in its European market, was an international hit. The film was an official selection for the London, Toronto, and Locarno film festivals.
As the film opens, we find chef Kate is speaking to her therapist. Rather than unload her weekly problems to her psycho-analyst, all she seems to discuss is food: French food to be exact. Her perplexed therapist wonders what is the point of her weekly visits if she can never, truly reveal herself. Kate discloses that she was ordered by her boss to attend therapy sessions, or she will be unequivocally fired.
Kate is a revered head chef in a trendy, French restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. She is accustomed to receiving accolades from her wealthy dining patrons, but every once in a while she is presented with the ass-hole dining guest who believes the world revolves around his outrageous requests. When these idiots give her hell, which is often, she gives it right back: This is why we love Kate. Unfortunately her boss Paula, who is also the owner, (played by the always, magnificent Patricia Clarkson) is fed up with her temperamental behavior.
Chef Kate is dedicated to her craft and lives in a gorgeous brownstone, blocks away from the restaurant. The audience is led to believe that she can actually afford this beautiful apartment, and that the massive kitchen she works at, really is bigger than the restaurant it resides in. Ahh, the magic of Hollywood. While at work, Kate receives the dreaded phone call everyone in life regrets receiving; the death of a beloved family member. Her sister, Christine, was in a car wreck that took her life and injured her 10 year old niece, Zoe. Kate is devastated and riddled with guilt. Her only sibling was driving to New York City to visit her.
Abigail Breslin plays the heart-broken Zoe. Zoe’s birth father was never in the picture,
which leaves Kate with sole guardianship. Chef Kate makes the mistake of returning to work the next day, much to the surprise of Paula. Halfway through the busy service, Kate is overwhelmed with grief and breaks down in the walk-in freezer. Paula finds her and orders Kate to take a week off. Before her week is up, Kate returns to the restaurant. To her chagrin, she finds that changes have been made without her consent. Paula has hired a charming sous chef named Nick, played by Aaron Eckhart. Kate is furious. She has been gone less than a week and her kitchen staff has run amuck under the guidance of this “lunatic,” as she refers to him. She is further insulted when she discovers Nick’s last position was cooking in an Italian restaurant, of all places.
Throughout the film Kate is adjusting to her new life as a parent. Her niece, Zoe, is refusing to eat and Kate has no idea how to remedy the situation. Zoe has no desire to indulge in the sophisticated, extravagant meals Kate prepares for her, such as duck confit and whole roasted fish. For her part, Kate doesn’t understand the simplicity of fish-sticks and fries. The reality is, no child wants to eat fish when its googly eyes are staring back at you. Making cameo appearances are Zoey Kravitz as the goth, chain-smoking babysitter, and Lily Rabe of American Horror Story, as the sassy, waitress-actress.
The relationship between chef Kate and Nick slowly begins to bloom. She is finally able to let him in and be vulnerable. Her endearing relationship with Zoe progresses from inexperienced aunt, to motherhood. The chemistry between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart is scorching. They’re a modern-day version of Gable and Colbert in It Happened One Night (1939); static and fire in the beginning, love and adoration in the end. Directed by Scott Hicks with a score by the incomparable Phillip Glass, No Reservations is sure to become a modern day classic that is well worth your viewing pleasure.