Simply Irresistible (1999)

reviewed by
Harvey S. Karten


Reviewed by Harvey Karten, Ph.D. 20th Century Fox Director: Mark Tarlov Writer: Judith Roberts Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Patricia Clarkson, Dylan Baker, Christopher Durang, Larry Gillard

One of the running gags in this movie is that men think of sex 278 times a day...that you can tell when a gentleman in contemplating its joys when he tightens his belt or puts his hands in his pockets. While no one is taking a guess on the figure attributable to women, I'd cut the digits in half and say that people think of food 139 times a day and sex the remainder. We don't wonder that sex has been the favorite theme of theater and film since Agamemnon's fooling around cost him his life and Medea's husband Jason's adulteries cost him his children. But perhaps only one out of forty movies shows people enjoying food. They may be eating to create busywork at the director's insistence, but centering a film around a meal is as rare as displaying actors in the bathroom.

We're grateful, then, that "Simply Irresistible" has come along, a paean to great food, a film that equates fine dining with sexual ecstasy. In no way, though, is Mark Tarlov's work in the same class as the 1966 stroke of genius, "Big Night," which substitutes Stanley Tucci for Sarah Michelle Gellar as that film's gourmet cook. While "Simply Irresistible" is on the right track, exchanging flotation and magic for the earthier tones of "Big Night," the film is simply too repetitious, featuring two actors who simply do not make chemistry together and, in the case of Ms. Gellar a nasal voice that is the equivalent of fingernails making their way up a blackboard.

Sorcery is in the air from the earliest scene, as Christopher Durang plays Cupid in the guise of a seller of crabs and a taxi driver. He starts the sparks flying, assuring a meeting between Amanda (Gellar) and a man who will become her gentleman caller, Tom (Sean Patrick Flanery). As with virtually every romantic comedy, the two must be made to split up each time they get together. In "Simply Irresistible" the fear of vulnerability takes the place of geographical estrangement: Tom, who is opening a large, elaborate restaurant uptown from Amanda's SoHo eatery, has worked his dating problems out on his computer and has discovered that he loses every prospective partner the fourth time out. He is as determined to avoid the mistake with Amanda as Amanda is bent on keeping his attention.

Gellar, who made a name for herself as Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV, comes across like an 18-year-old kid to Flanery's urbane, alpha-male restaurateur. As Amanda, Gellar plays a chef whose long-established restaurant is about to go under simply because she cannot cook, but under the spell of a crab that Cupid has left in her kitchen, she has fallen in love. Her cooking suddenly takes on inspirational wizardry. She makes caramel eclairs that gives those who eat them unadulterated euphoria, while her Crabs Napoleon bring customers in by the score. When she dances with Tom, the floor takes on the qualities of a large ballroom with mirrors, filling with fog that literally transports the lovers to the ceiling. Is this what you were like when you first fell in love?

Opening shortly before Valentine's Day, "Simply Irresistible" is a date movie that probably seeks a twenty- something audience. The romance is old-fashioned, the sort that market researchers say is craved by youth now tuning out the edgy, satiric comedies about love. Its principal attractions are the side roles, particularly Larry Gilliard Jr. as Amanda assistant chef Nolan, who is easily the most amusing fellow in this slight work, while Dylan Baker, so vivid in Todd Solondz's "Happiness," is foolish to the point of embarrassment. For the most part, this eclair is no "Like Water for Chocolate."

Rated PG-13.  Running Time: 100 minutes.  (C) 1999
Harvey Karten

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