By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
Charming little romantic dramedy breaks no new ground, but wins major points for not pandering to melodrama, but instead giving its audience an honest, touching, and uplifting little story. Remake of the Italian film Mostly Martha. ***1/2 (out of five) Rated PG (mild language and innuendo).
The Full Scoop
I am convinced that professional movie critics often will not like something if it is simple, straightforward, and has an uplifting message. Many appear to only like something “edgy,” “new,” or envelope-pushing. How else can one explain the lukewarm critical reception for the charming little film No Reservations, a romantic dramedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eackhart, and Signs wunderkid Abigail Breslin?
This is a good “cuddle on the couch” movie. I will stay away from spoilers, but suffice to say that I very much enjoyed this movie for its realistic and thorough approach to grieving, family, healing, and falling in love. On paper, the plot seems formulaic but it works because the three main characters (who admittedly seem like one-dimensional caricatures initially) are all fleshed out subtly and believably as the film goes on.
Zeta-Jones is often far too glamorous for me to see her as anything but a sex symbol, but here she gives a solid, very grounded performance. She's both selfish and selfless, confident yet vulnerable, bright but can be ditzy…in short, she's human. Abigail Breslin continues to be the best child actor working today with a performance that is heartwarming, heartbreaking, and very real.
Aaron Eckhart (to be seen in The Dark Knight this summer), is extremely likable and charming. His romance with Zeta-Jones plays out without a lot of fanfare, which is why I liked it. It feels like the type of unforced process that happens in the real world. Of course it starts with the standard “love-hate” scenario and near the end there's a crisis that threatens to drive them apart, but to the film's credit, neither cliched plot device occupies a lot of screen time. Instead, the bulk of the drama comes from the more realistic tragedy that brings these three people together. The comedy, as well, plays out more like the comedy that occurs in real life. This is not a knee-slapping, hilarious romantic comedy a la While You Were Sleeping, but it's not meant to be.
No Reservations doesn't break any new ground, but it does display the beautiful aspects of our humanity without forcing it. Most romantic comedies are fairly predictable; you know exactly what you're going to get, and if you like the genre (and I do), you are rarely disappointed. No Reservations, however, has the distinction of being a bit more subtle, more straightforward, more real, and carries a bit more depth than most. Like the food the characters prepare, it's very much the same as similar dishes you've enjoyed, only better.
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Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.