Every so often I set aside the action adventure or drama genres and I watch a romantic comedy. I have three girls and a beautiful wife, you see. Most rom-coms are formulaic, few are engaging. No Reservations is both formulaic and engaging. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kate, head chef at the upscale 22 Bleecker Restaurant in Manhattan, and Nick, as an Italian-trained sous-chef, are a cute couple.
Kate has worked hard to claw her way up to the top, the head honcho in this expensive epicurean establishment. She has no other interests, no family, no relationships in the last few years. In short, she has no life . . . except for her kitchen creations, such as her signature quail with truffles. And she is in therapy, at the orders of her boss, Paula (Patricia Clarkson).
Tragedy strikes Kate's neat and tidy life, when her sister is killed. Kate winds up with her niece, Zoe (played by the adorable Abigail Breslin who was so good in Little Miss Sunshine). Kate is a fish-out-of-water. As strong and in control as she is at work, she has no idea how to care for a child. She does not know what to feed a kid. She forgets her and leaves her waiting on the school steps.
When Kate goes back to work, she finds a man running her kitchen. And not only a man, but one who is "conducting" the other chefs in a magnificent rendition of Italian opera with passion, while he keeps the food coming. Nick is clearly Kate's opposite. Kate is all cool control, a general giving orders in the kitchen, expecting instant acquiescence. Nick is playful passion, a composer collaborating with fellow creators. They are oil and water.
Inevitably, Nick wins Paula's approval but not Kate's. Inevitably, Nick wins Zoe's affection, and even Kate's approval when he gets her to eat . . . some spaghetti (don't all kids love this?). Inevitably, Nick and Kate date, even if it is a home-cooked Italian dinner on "safari." Inevitably, Nick and Kate kiss, though it takes a while. And inevitably, they break up, setting up the rom-com finale. But it is an engaging ride, played well by the leads, who have good chemistry.
No Reservations, light and comic though it is, serves up a couple of meaty main course thoughts for us to ponder. First, Kate the controller says to her shrink, complaining about Nick, "He's so unpredictable!" She cannot stand such disorder in her kitchen, which is her life. The shrink replies, "Life is unpredictable." How true. We think we have a handle on our own destinies, our lives. We think our plans are working. And then, WHAM, we have a blowout. James says, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' " (Jas 4:13-15). God is in the one ultimately in control of things, and God is not predictable. So life is unpredictable. For some of us, like Kate this is difficult to accept.
The second ethical main course relates to that of control. Kate, embraces control because she does not trust. She has been hurt before; there is relational pain in her past. Nick sees this and says, "You won't let anyone in." We are relational beings. In relationships we do get hurt. But in relationships we also find the deepest joy and love there is. Relationships require trust; they are a gamble. Paul Simon sang, "I am a rock, I am an island." That's Kate. It takes Zoe for her to understand there is more to life than just work. And in relationships there cannot be one-way total control. Healthy relationships require a give and take, and that is trust.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs