A master chef, Kate, lives her life like she runs the kitchen at upscale 22 Bleecker Restaurant in Manhattan--with a no-nonsense intensity that both captivates and intimidates everyone around her. With breathtaking precision, she powers through each hectic shift, coordinating hundreds of meals, preparing delicate sauces, seasoning and simmering each dish to absolute perfection.Written by
Lugubrious Hybrid of the Food Network and Lifetime Makes for an Attractive But Bland Movie
Despite what I recall of the advertising campaign last year, this soft-hearted 2007 film is far less a Food Network-derived romantic comedy than a Lifetime-oriented drama about grief and work/life balance. Directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine") and written by first-timer Carol Fuchs, this film offers the most insightful peek into the workings of an upscale Manhattan restaurant since 2000's "Dinner Rush" (i.e., if you don't count last year's CGI-generated, French food-fest, "Ratatouille"), but it also seems intent in splintering the story between the romantic sparks between the co-stars and the unexpected relationship that a single aunt forms with her orphaned niece. The result is heartwarming but rather diluted considering the potential inherent in the material presented. Hicks and Fuchs also seem intent on inserting predictable clichés along the way to reinforce the formulaic approach taken with the story.
Basically a remake of the 2001 German comedy, "Mostly Martha", the plot centers on perfectionist chef Kate who runs a tightly efficient kitchen in a chic SoHo bistro. As a resolute overachiever, she is able to get up before dawn to get to the fish market and stay late at the restaurant making her impeccably presented dishes until closing. So tightly wound is Kate that restaurant owner Paula forces her to see a therapist to address her supposedly difficult personality. This is the first of several disconnects I had with the film as Kate strikes me as demanding but not particularly abusive to her staff. Regardless, her life is turned upside down by the sudden death of her sister and the addition of her niece Zoe to her structured life. As if that wasn't enough, Paula has hired Nick, a rowdy opera-loving sous-chef, to partner with Kate as she struggles with her personal transition at home. Taking a number from the Tracy-Hepburn manual for romantic comedy, tempers flare as do sparks. Zoe's recovery from her mother's death becomes a complicating factor, but the rest of the story plays out basically how you would presume.
More interesting in edgier, less sympathetic roles, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the icier aspects of her role well, but she is markedly less arresting when her character turns warm and gooey. The script also doesn't really respect her character much since she is made to look overly foolish and insensitive in her early scenes as a struggling mother figure. Aaron Eckhart seems to be playing more of a plot device as Nick, but he does it well, and the requisite sparks occur with Zeta-Jones. Cornering the market on playing put-upon children, Abigail Breslin is fine as Zoe, even though she has to be glumly depressed for much of the film. The usually more dimensional Patricia Clarkson plays Paula as a surprisingly brittle, opportunistic character, while Bob Balaban isn't given much to do at all as Kate's therapist but act as a bromide. Stuart Dryburgh's autumnal cinematography makes all the food look good, the stars as well, and minimalist composer Philip Glass, of all people, provided the unobtrusive soundtrack dominated by Puccini, Verdi, and Flotow arias. The most significant bonus item on the 2008 DVD is a twenty-minute episode of the Food Network's "Unwrapped" which includes interviews with the film's stars and the real chefs who concocted the dishes in the movie.
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