No Reservations is a remake of Bella Martha (Mostly Martha), a German movie made way back in 2001. The premise is entirely the same, and I thought the local distributors were sly enough to hold back the release of this movie to coincide during the time of the local premiere of Ratatouille. I suspect it's to rub off the Pixar animated movie's successful telling of a story set within a kitchen, to orientate moviegoers to the various roles and functions within the restaurant kitchen, so that we're all ready for this when we're in the mood for some love.
And the food is absolutely to die for in this movie too. As with Bella Martha and Ratatouille, you'll just drool at the gastronomical delights that are whipped up for the movie, so the warning I give will be, don't watch this on an empty stomach, and you'll probably emerge from the theatre hall wanting to dine in a restaurant than your nearest hawker centre or food court.
For those who have watched Bella Martha (as I had in doing my homework), then this movie isn't any different for the most parts. In summary, it's a story about a workaholic chef Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has to juggle to changes to her life when her boss makes her go for therapy to control that anger inside her. The first is to take care of her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine) when her sister meets with an accident, and the other is to manage that threat from work, in the form of another chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart), who has the potential to run his own kitchen, but for some reason chose to work under Kate in the same restaurant.
As a romantic comedy, this movie works, well, because it adapted almost every romantic scene from the German original. Key scenes are recreated, and for those who have watched the original, you'll recognize them in a jiffy. But No Reservations still stands on its own, thanks to its wonderful cast. Zeta-Jones is as beautifully luminous as always, and I thought she hadn't aged a bit since the first I saw her back in Mask of Zorro. She brings about a tough as nails, no nonsense attitude to her role as Kate, yet is also the vulnerable soul looking for love. If compared to the original character, no doubt Zeta-Jones is eye-candy. Aaron Eckhart brought about a certain boyish charm to his character as compared to Sergio Castellitto in the original, but Sergio had a much mature air around him. But fans of Abigail Breslin will no doubt be glad that she did exhibit some of those boogie moves (for just a bit), and I'm glad that it's not yet another role that shoos in Dakota Fanning. Watch out Fanning, here comes Breslin!
But if you're to compare Bella Martha and No Reservations, each has their superior points over the other. The Hollywood version is more polished and straight-forward, opting to rely on its good looking casts to deliver the goods, and thankfully they do, even though it had to dumb down certain plot lines, making it pacier, but it couldn't shake away its "Hollywood RomCom" look and feel. It also shrewdly adapted the soundtrack from Bella Martha as well, because the music just works perfectly with the food. The original on the other hand, had more scenes which are done subtly, and doesn't feel a need to explain every little detail in verbatim. So it has more quieter moments and the romantic connotations don't come so obviously, but brews quietly in the background. What I found slightly appalling, is that No Reservations decided to dump a sub plot altogether, one that was important in the original, probably for fear of introducing yet another character. It's mostly the same, until the last third.
Those who haven't watched the original shouldn't feel too bothered about that of course, but I felt it was something a little wasted. Nonetheless No Reservations is the romance movie on offering this week, and by itself, it provides some decent entertaining fare. But do yourself that favour, go watch the original too!