by Cass Cannon
This movie ran too long. That pasta isn’t cooked to what I would consider al dente. That plot twist is too salty. Have you been to so-and-where? I heard she went vegan for that role!
In other words, everyone’s their own ideal chef and everyone’s their own ideal director. Listen to anyone watch Chopped or review a film. Everyone would do it better or differently or tastier. Now, with all these experts, you’d think that when these two disciplines came together, they’d make magic. I’m talking beautiful and accurate representations of the food industry that would pass like a seven course tasting menu meets Fellini wrapped in a Oscar-worthy monologue. Unfortunately, however, when food and film do combine, the result is often more like a half heated-through Mama Celeste pizza than anything you’d want to sink your teeth into.
Chef (which works because it’s a beautiful movie about family and ALSO food… although no one is buying that Jon Favreau is sexy no matter how tasty his spaghetti is) and Ratatouille, I can’t think of a single movie about cooking that really...gets it—the humor of the kitchen wrapped up in the difficulty of working weird hours in confined spaces. Or, at the very least, doesn’t get in its own way when it comes to chef-y world building. All too often cooks and chefs are presented as social convicts who are too alienated and too job-obsessed to be relatable beyond being something of an angry clown.
And still, I cross my fingers every time I click on a movie that features someone in chef’s whites with some title that puns on heat, service, or anything food-related. And that’s how I came to queue up the Food-Network-meets-Lifetime tragedy that is No Reservations.
Before I get ahead of myself and talk about the fact that this movie has FOUR SEPARATE MONTAGES, let me try to explain its pacing: within five minutes, we see that Catherine’s character is so into her job, she uses her therapy sessions to talk braising, roasting, and other ways to prep quail, spitting out food words that don’t make any sense in a sentence, let alone a recipe. Within ten minutes, Catherine’s sister dies, she inherits responsibility of her niece, and she starts acting quirkily annoyed with the child’s presence. Within fifteen, she’s simultaneously in love with and hates Aaron Eckhart's character. All the while, we’re told she’s this workaholic, and yet she doesn’t ever really work. And I’m not ranting just to shit on some feel-good movie about a woman trying her best in New York. I’m shitting on it because it’s so overwrought that there’s barely an entry point.
And I think I know why. No Reservations tries way too hard to convince us that these chefs know what they’re talking about. Every sentence of dialogue is fraught with sabayon this and gastrique that, and while that’s okay if you’re Alton Brown narrating an episode of Iron Chef, in a real kitchen, hell—in real life—no one actually talks like this.
For example, there’s a scene where the owner of the restaurant (played by a very saucy Patricia Clarkson) tries to brag about the restaurant to Aaron Eckhart. She boasts that that night — presumably a weekend night — they did “150 covers.” “Covers” is restaurant lingo for people. 150 people. On a weekend. That’s what Patricia Clarkson is using to wow the audience and seduce Eckhart. And that’s what I don’t understand. If a writer has gone to the lengths to craft sweeping story arcs and inter-character relationships, why stop at the details? Is it so much more effort to interview some cooks, servers, or read a single food review in the New York Times?