The usually steadfast Max DeCurtins dines on a salad of gin and cucumbers to re-view a lesser food-related movie from 2007, the remake No Reservations. He probably wishes it were the Anthony Bourdain show, but it’s not. It’s very much not.
So, originally I was just planning to write an addendum to my 2012 re-view of the German film Mostly Martha upon which No Reservations is based. Perhaps feeding a latent masochistic urge, I decided instead to re-view No Reservations in full; prix-fixe if you will. As 10YA is a retrospective blog, allow me to look retrospectively at the last five years of my life and take stock of the several things that have changed since 2012.
I am no longer temporarily waylaid in pursuit of a PhD; that aspiration is now six feet under. I have both unambiguous and simultaneously mixed feelings about this.
I have gotten to re-view 2007’s Ratatouille, which is an excellent, excellent film.
I have not been to Sunset Cantina in years.
I have been to Spain, where I got to eat shit like THIS:
Heaven, thy name is tapas.
Some things have, however, not changed.
I still have plenty of excess body weight to shed, despite having less of it now than I did five years ago. In the last year and a half I’ve gone from owning zero suits to owning two, and I’d like not to have to wonder whether they still fit for a long-ass time.
I still work at (roughly) the same job I did five years ago, which I’m sure as we speak is making one of those “Entitled Millennials Don’t Know How to Do Real Work” article authors scratch their head in confusion. Honey, it’s called being wrong. Just ask the Republicans. They know alllllllll about that.
And No Reservations is still a shitty movie.
In fact, my exact words to the esteemed Editor of 10YA were:
I already know the basic thrust of the re-view, and it goes something like this: DIS MOVIE STUPID AF.
No Reservations is what happens when you shamelessly try to rip off a much better movie and end up squandering any fucking self-respect you might have had. Speaking of squandering self-respect, see also: Paul Ryan when he . . . well, pretty much any time.
Since there was no way I was going to watch this movie sober, I decided to call upon my friends Hayman Old Tom and St. Germain to join the party:
What? OK, so maybe gin isn’t a food, but cucumbers sure are, so it’s basically a salad, right? Stop looking at me like that.
Anyway, we start out with a voiceover by Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Note the utter lack of conviction in her voice. You can tell, this is gonna be a great movie. What makes this better, of course, is the pizzicato strings, oboe, and clarinet in the underscoring, making it sound like we’re promenading through an English manor estate garden in a fucking BBC Jane Austen adaptation. Which, you know, we’re not.
(Wait, Philip fucking GLASS did this score? Time to drink more gin.)
No, we’re not in an English country garden; we’re in the office of Kate’s therapist (Bob Balaban), and she’s telling him all about the ins and outs of cooking quail as a stalling tactic to avoid talking about why she’s neurotic and alone. (Come to think of it, that pretty much describes my sessions, except instead of quail I’m talking about coding and why my roommates drive me crazy. The neurotic and alone part still applies, though.) Also, what kind of fucking therapist has an office that nice? In Manhattan??
Kate’s problem is basically this: people are shit, and when they don’t get things right, she just can’t even. It could be a customer complaining about undercooked food or one of her cooks being insufficiently obsessive-compulsive about plating. Whatever it is, Kate isn’t having it. Some people call it being insufferable. Other people call it having standards. Restaurant owner Paula (Patricia Clarkson) calls it Get Your Ass to Therapy or Get Fired.
Kate walks home from the restaurant, located in the swank district of Bleecker Street, into a spacious apartment that she can’t possibly fucking afford, and collapses into bed, because restaurant work is physically punishing and you have to be completely awake when the rest of the world is getting ready to turn in. The next day she goes shopping at what appears to be the Fulton Fish Market, except the market isn’t at its original location on the Lower East Side anymore, and the area is now a bunch of cobblestone streets lined with the kind of bars that probably charge $16 for a glass of Malbec. So, good job filmmakers. Kate oohs and ahhs over some fish—because that’s totally a thing that normal people do.
Kate’s sister is coming to visit with her daughter, Kate’s niece Zoe, and because after reading my 2012 re-view you went and watched Mostly Martha instead of this garbage, you know that the sister is going to die in a car crash and little Zoe (Abigail Breslin) is going to be stuck with a neurotic, single, perpetually about-to-be-fired chef as her guardian. Good times.
We meet Sean (Brían O’Byrne), Kate’s definitely dateable downstairs neighbor. Girl, he’s Irish and he’s got a great jawline. He’s not say, Mitch Hewer hot, but dude’s no slouch either. He lives in your swank-ass building with its mahogany banisters and tasteful sconces, so he’s probably you know, gainfully employed. What the fuck is wrong with you.
Kate gets the bad news while she’s on shift at 22 Bleecker. Disheveled after spending the night in the hospital room, she awakens to find Zoe staring at her and asking where her mother is. Let’s note that her next question after “Where’s mom?” is “She’s dead, isn’t she?” A pushover this kid is definitely not. Kate confirms this with a simple “yes,” and Zoe is overcome with grief, at which point Kate just sits there.
OMGGG KATE HUG THE FUCKING GIRL.
Kate tries to adjust to her new reality, but as it turns out, she’s totally fucking incompetent when it comes to coping with the unexpected. She breaks down in the kitchen and Paula orders her to take a week off. When it comes to Zoe, she shows no warmth at all. Even when they’re at the mother’s funeral, Kate still doesn’t make physical contact with Zoe.
For their first dinner together Kate, having no fucking sense of how other people are like, makes fish for her first dinner with Zoe. From Zoe’s perspective, the camera gives us a great you-fucking-expect-me-to-eat-this shot of a whole fish, head pointed toward the viewer, mouth agape.
Because Kate’s a workaholic and afraid of literally the entire rest of her life, she leaves her RECENTLY TRAUMATIZED NIECE ALONE in the apartment and pops over to the restaurant where, drawn by the strains of Italian opera wafting from behind the kitchen doors, Kate finds out just who’s been covering for her in her absence. As it turns out, her replacement is none other than Aaron Eckhart—or rather, as it has been noted elsewhere on this venerable blog, Aaron Eckhart’s hair. Them’s some pretty locks.
Nick, as Eckhart’s character is called, greets her with what is, I think we can all agree, the world’s Greatest Pickup Line: “Oh my God, it’s you. I am begging you, will you please tell me the secret of your saffron sauce?” WATCH OUT, FOLKS. It’s *literally* awesome sauce.
(Have I had enough to drink yet? Clearly not.)
And about that Italian opera. It’s not just any old aria, because any old aria won’t do. It’s not a chorus, because choruses don’t wail for a full fucking measure on A4, and it wouldn’t—at least in the popular imagination—be opera without the wailing. So what is it? IT’S FUCKING NESSUN DORMA. Only perhaps the most overused opera excerpt in film and, of late, on the campaign trail. That’s right kids, Il Trumpolini used Nessun Dorma at rallies in 2016. Slate even produced this great piece on the intersection of Trump and Turandot. But seriously. I hate this aria.
Other composers wrote operas too, you know. Monteverdi. Charpentier. Handel. Mozart. Rameau. Why don’t we ever hear from them? Because it’s America in 2017 and we can’t have nice things, that’s why.
Instead we have Aaron Eckhart and his hair, pastry brush in hand, painting . . . what, an air portrait of Puccini? . . . and singing Nessun Dorma—ridiculously out of tune—to a pregnant woman’s belly.
Time to drink EVEN MORE gin.
Anyway, after having a spat with Paula about Nick, coming back to her apartment to discover that Sean has ordered her Thai food (seriously, the guy is bangable and orders you food, what’s your problem?), and finding Zoe asleep with an old photo album, Kate wakes up late the next morning and scrambles to get Zoe to her first day of school. Kate then rushes off to her therapist, who still has a fucking amazing office—annnnnd I just realized that the staircases are reminding me of Serenity in Firefly—to explain that she just can’t even with this whole being responsible for another person thing; like, isn’t there a service you can call for this sort of thing? Isn’t there a goddamn app for that?
Kate hires a babysitter—the Goth Babysitter from Hell—and heads off to the restaurant for her first night in the kitchen with Nick. Because rom coms must by law include at least one musical montage, we get one showing Kate and Nick learning how to coexist, set to an extremely tired rendition of Paolo Conte’s “Via con me,” which because the ’90s were my formative years I have always associated with the 1995 Meg Ryan flick French Kiss. Shit, I’m old.
About “Via con me” for a moment. There’s a certain Affect that creeps into repeated performances of hit songs by their original performers who have come to be synonymous with the song, an Affect that I can only describe as the Slowly Withering Artistic Spirit. A guy I know spends summers playing piano in bars and at functions on Nantucket, otherwise known as Where the Rich People Are. He’s got a $20 minimum for any request for “Piano Man,” because that’s how often people request it. If that’s how he feels about “Piano Man,” think how Billy Joel feels. If Pachelbel were alive today, he’d probably fucking charge $500 a pop for the Canon in D. (Me, I’d charge $1,000.) “Via con me” is Paolo Conte’s “Piano Man,” and it’s kind of fitting that for the version used in No Reservations he sounds bored out of his fucking mind, because guess what? SO ARE WE.
Another short aside: The one thing that this movie actually gets right, almost by accident, is that Spanish is an unofficial lingua franca of most restaurant kitchens. Immigrants are literally responsible for a huge chunk of the food that you order, so the next time your Republican relative/coworker/leftover acquaintance starts mouthing off about immigration, be sure to remind them that unless they’d like to spend eight hours a night in a cramped space in front of a commercial gas range, they should stuff a sock in their mouth. In the meantime, they can stop eating out. Or staying in hotels. Or buying groceries. Or doing . . . pretty much anything.
Anyway, Nick finally begins to endear himself to Kate when she notices that he’s finally coaxed Zoe into eating something. Personally, between the whole fish and then the fish sticks, I don’t blame Zoe one bit for refusing to go for either. She starts tucking into a bowl of spaghetti, authoritatively informs Nick that there were no high school proms in ancient Rome, and thus begins another musical montage.
OK, so I admit it. The bit where Zoe throws out the truffles and then watches in stunned disbelief as Kate pulls out a whole yellow lockbox of these things Zoe thinks are trash is actually pretty funny. Unfortunately, the good bits of this movie always seem to come during musical montages, and when said montages aren’t accompanied by someone else’s music, they’re scored with the same Philip Glass cue that just repeats over and over and OVER AGAIN. It’s like Glass had sex with Hans Zimmer before scoring No Reservations and took that as inspiration to write an endlessly repetitive cue like the action theme from the first Pirates of the Caribbean.
Things are going well—Nick isn’t driving Kate crazy, Zoe’s eating and smiling, yay! And then Kate goes and fucks it up by forgetting to pick up Zoe after school one day, which, let’s be honest, all our parents did at least once in our school careers. As penance, Kate promises to make like a fairy godmother and grant Zoe a wish.
Zoe’s wish is that Nick come over and they cook for Kate. What a little yenteleh. They kick Kate out of the kitchen, and proceed to make pizza and antipasti. Zoe leads Kate to their dining space, which is basically a pillow fort with candles, a.k.a definitely not a fire hazard in any way, shape, or form. It’s also definitely not a romantic set-up.
EATING PIZZA ON SAFARI DIRTY PLATES ATTRACT THE BIG CATS WHAT THE FUCKK THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT NOOOOOO MAKE IT STOP OH GOD
Time to drink more gin. MOAR FUCKING GIN.
They put Zoe to bed, and then do what any self-respecting adults do: eat an espresso- and booze-laced dessert in front of the fireplace, come up with a pathetic excuse to start touching each other (“oh, you have a little bit of cream right there, allow me”), and then . . . almost make the fuck out. Nick couldn’t have been clearer had he said, sorry Kate, but there’s no way I’m getting involved with an inscrutable psycho. Did Eckhart’s hair finally endow him with a little brains?
Following this carefully orchestrated evening, Kate and Zoe have a fight over Zoe hanging around the restaurant kitchen until closing time—Kate parroting the line from Zoe’s school principal that it’s not appropriate. Zoe spits back that Kate never wanted her, which seems awfully capricious given how much she enjoyed that whole pizza safari in the candlelit pillow fort thing. Kate, reluctant to bring Zoe to work but resolved never again to summon the Goth Babysitter from Hell, asks Sean—whose advances Kate has spurned time and again—to check in on Zoe while she’s at work. He accepts, because apparently Sean hasn’t an irritable bone in his body, and off Kate goes to the restaurant. Once there, Nick comments that she could use a drink, to which Kate replies, “I never drink at work.”
GUESS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. DERP.
While Kate is drinking at work (and where the hell are the restaurant’s customers in all this?), we’re treated to yet another hackneyed, overused excerpt from the corpus of 19th-century Italian opera: “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” from Verdi’s La Traviata. OMG YOU GUYS, LIBIAMO = LET’S DRINK AND SHE’S ACTUALLY DRINKING. YOU GET IT?? SO CLEVER. VERY VERDI. MUCH WOW.
Since this movie is still going, for reasons passing understanding, and because the booze in my glass is starting to dwindle, I’ll speed this up a bit. Sean comes through again, folks. Nick burns Kate with another rejection. Then more sensible behavior, in the form of watching home videos of her dead sister with Zoe in the middle of the night while still half sloshed. Because that’s totally something one should do. But they all make up, and we head into the middle of Act III with yet another montage.
I’ve lost track of the number of musical montages in this movie. It feels excessive even by rom com standards. And after all the opera, getting a pop montage feels like an episode of musical schizophrenia. WAT IS THIS SCORE.
In rom coms, there’s usually a crisis in the middle of Act III, the one that’s supposed to test if our heroes can weather adversity and live happily ever after. In No Reservations it comes when Kate notices that Paula has increased Nick’s prominence at 22 Bleecker at her expense. Kate orders him into the walk-in for an explanation and, after being told that Paula offered Nick Kate’s job, accuses him of conniving to steal command of her kitchen all along. Nick, to no one’s surprise, quits in high dudgeon.
When she gets home, however, she has a voicemail message from Nick on her answering machine (remember those?), left at 11:54 pm (who calls at that hour?), informing her that oh yeah, by the way, he turned Paula down. Oops, you wailed on Nick and then it turns out he didn’t swipe your job even when your boss offered it to him. Then, whoops again, Zoe runs off on you. Panicked, Kate calls Nick for help, and he obliges, ferrying Kate around until they find Zoe at her mother’s grave. If Kate’s personal debts to people for their generosity were monetary, she’d have a mortgage in the high six figures by now. When he returns them to Kate’s apartment, he informs her that he’s taken a job in San Francisco as the executive chef at a new restaurant there.
Executive Chef at a restaurant in San Francisco . . . which these days might mean a place that serves you a latke (excuse me, golden heirloom potato rösti) with smashed avocado and a poached egg and charges you $23 for it. Oh and it’s just an appetizer. I haven’t really dined in the city for quite a few years now, but my understanding is that the Twitterati and the Uberians, among others, have only accelerated the shift toward exclusive dining establishments, all the while pulling the mean price of eating out ever upwards.
For once, Kate manages to realize an opportunity before it escapes her, and she runs off to his apartment with a copper saucier full of her vaunted saffron sauce. (Somehow she knows where he lives despite the fact that in the entire fucking movie she NEVER ONCE WENT THERE.) Luckily, she catches him—what a surprise!—before he busts out of town. All’s forgiven and forgotten.
In good rom com fashion, we end with a scene that brings most of the important characters together—in this case, at the new variably-named Zoe’s-Kate’s-Nick’s Bistro. Lea makes one last appearance, as does Sean—good old Sean, with his ridiculously cute twin boys. But hey, don’t feel bad for him! He’s eating pancakes! Also, can we talk about how Kate and Nick opening a bistro together totally doesn’t address Nick’s character at all? Wasn’t he supposed to go out there and run his own kitchen? Are the pancakes really that good?
I mentioned at the beginning that this movie pretty much slavishly copies from Mostly Martha, and while the stories of the two movies do track fairly closely, there are a couple of important differences. No Reservations does away with the character of the father entirely, which mostly doesn’t make one ounce of difference to the story—in Mostly Martha he only shows up right before the end—but by getting rid of the plot bit wherein the father comes along and takes custody of Zoe/Lina, we lose out on seeing Kate/Martha’s conviction about her own parenthood tested. The only real point of the father showing up at the end, douchey and patronizing as it is, is to give Kate/Martha exactly what she wanted in the beginning of the story: not to be a parent. The feel-good resolution at the end of Mostly Martha is that she actually does want to be a parent after all; at the end of No Reservations it’s that she falls for the guy and in exchange he, you know, doesn’t take the fuck off. You tell me: which sounds slightly more original?
By turning the story from one primarily about a strong woman learning to embrace parenthood into one that feels a lot like a watered-down Taming of the Shrew with Italian opera (while also not entirely subordinating the parenthood narrative), No Reservations ends up with two parallel stories that are both weak. Now, this is definitely not the worst movie ever. But, it must be said, DIS MOVIE STUPID AF. It’s vapid, and not even in a stylistically coherent way. I could forgive it if it were a piece of empty fun flawlessly executed, but it’s not.
Whatever words you want to use to describe No Reservations—boring, saccharine, overwrought all come to mind—the fact is that it lost almost everything in translation from the German film of five years earlier. To be sure, Mostly Martha isn’t a masterpiece itself. But it’s at least a far more interesting piece of cinema. Moreover, No Reservations doesn’t tug at the conventions associated with the rom com genre, and usually the only way to succeed without pushing the envelope is to be a peerless master of the genre, and this movie is definitely not that. I leave you with the same advice I gave in my re-view of Mostly Martha: if you’re going to watch a food-related movie from 2007, watch Ratatouille.
Libiamo, bitches. Time to drink more gin.