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No Reservations

Familiar and Occasionally Satisfying

Stop me if this premise sounds familiar: a single, career-oriented (and obsessed) woman becomes her niece’s legal guardian after her sister dies in a tragic accident. Somewhere along the way, the woman meets a suitable member of the opposite sex and, after a few false starts, learns the value of balancing her work life with her newly invigorated personal life. Sounds like a remake of 1988’s Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton, right? Actually, it’s not. No Reservations is a remake of a 2001 German comedy/drama, Mostly Martha. Directed by Scott Hicks (Hearts in Atlantis, Snow Falling on Cedars, Shine), No Reservations is a modestly entertaining romantic comedy and family drama mix.

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) seemingly has it all, a stimulating, rewarding position as the head chef at an upscale Greenwich Village restaurant and a spacious, airy, well-furnished apartment that the average New Yorker would envy. At work, her tough, uncompromising attitude wins the staff’s respect, if not their friendship. What Kate doesn’t have is a romantic relationship, despite one of her neighbor’s (Brian F. O'Byrne) obvious efforts to the contrary. She also doesn't have a handle on her temper: she doesn’t take kindly to criticism from the restaurant’s well-heeled patrons. To get a grip on her anger issues, the restaurant’s owner, Paula (Patricia Clarkson), has forced Kate into therapy. Her therapist (Bob Balaban) tries to get Kate to open up about her emotional needs, but with minimal success.

Everything changes for Kate when her sister dies in a car accident, leaving her as the sole guardian for her niece, Zoë (Abigail Breslin). At least at first, the emotionally traumatized Zoë has little interest in interacting with Kate or eating her elaborately prepared meals. Woefully unprepared for parenthood, Kate struggles to get through to Zoë and only succeeds when she invites her to “help” out at the restaurant one evening. Zoë becomes enamored with the presumably temporary replacement for the restaurant’s very pregnant sous chef, the free-spirited, unconventional Nick (Aaron Eckhart). Not surprisingly, Kate doesn’t get along with Nick, who she sees as a threat. Zoë, of course, sees Nick as the missing puzzle to a reconstituted family.

Surprisingly, No Reservations departs from the usual conventions and clichés of the romantic comedy by incorporating elements typical of family or relationship dramas. The mix of formulaic, lightweight comedy with “heavy” drama involving Zoë’s mourning and eventual recovery makes No Reservations less than ideal for couples looking for an undemanding “date movie”.

However, this doesn’t always work, mostly because the tonal shifts from comedy to drama isn’t handled as smoothly by Scott Hicks or his screenwriter, Carol Fuchs, as it could or should be. The mix of comedic and dramatic elements also means that the conflict that usually drives both genres isn’t as sharp or well defined as we’ve come to expect.

Luckily, though, Hicks has charismatic leads in Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin to work with. A year removed from her Academy Award-nominated performance in Little Miss Sunshine, Breslin proves her performance wasn’t a fluke. The screenplay demands a lot emotionally from the eleven-year old Breslin, all of which she delivers without a hint of forcefulness or a lack of authenticity. The Kate-Nick storyline doesn’t ask much of Zeta-Jones and Eckhart except to furrow their brows at each other, exchange harsh, teasing words, and then give in to the predictable demands of their burgeoning romance. All of which makes No Reservations not quite a date movie, not quite a relationship or family drama, but a semi-successful, mildly entertaining way to pass a Saturday evening.

Rating; 3 out of 5 stars