She plays Amanda Shelton, the chef at a floundering New York restaurant
called The Southern Cross. Though the place has been there for ages, originally
owned by Amanda's mother who made it a success, it is doomed to closure
for lack of business. See, Amanda just isn't the cook her dear departed
mom was, and the bills are soon going to force her to declare bankruptcy.
Even so, when she meets a nice guy in the marketplace named Tom Bartlett
(Sean Patrick Flanery), she can't resist trying to impress him by bragging
about her Crab Napoleon, which she has never actually made. Since Tom just
happens to be the manager of Jonathan's, a new posh restaurant that is about
to open, he is intrigued, so he and his obnoxious girlfriend Chris (Amanda
Peet) stop in for lunch. And that's when the crab hits the fan.
The day Amanda saw Tom in the market, she also met a mysterious fellow
(Christopher Durang) who convinced her to buy a basket of crabs. In that
basket was a special crab apparently endowed with magical powers. She doesn't
cook him, but he's there when she makes lunch for Tom. Though she has little
ability as a chef, she turns out a dish so incredible it makes Tom fall
for her. Meanwhile, Chris's lunch makes her throw dishes around the place
and stomp out. Sound silly? It is.
Though my first thought was that she was simply putting LSD in the food,
the explanation is different: When Amanda has the animatronic crustacean
in the kitchen, she is able to pass her emotions on through her culinary
concoctions. But no one discovers this until much later, when she has been
asked to step in for the chef who quit Tom's restaurant on opening night.
All the beautiful people (and all the high-powered critics) are there when
she goes to work, and soon they are all laughing, crying, loving, etc.,
with each new course.
It is astonishing that Gellar, apparently unable to produce any range
of emotion at all, was chosen by director Tarlov as the lead in this highly
emotional story. But perhaps it was intentional; maybe we're supposed to
guess her feelings by her food, in the absence of any other clues. Some
of the supporting characters, like Jonathan, the self-absorbed restaurant
owner (Dylan Baker), and Lois, his amorous assistant (Patricia Clarkson),
add frivolous fun to the proceedings. Amanda's pragmatic sous-chef, Nolan
(Larry Gilliard Jr.), provides the necessary stability to counterbalance
the silliness. Meanwhile the food, which plays a major role itself, is gorgeous;
it is surely the most appealing aspect of the movie.
The love story of Simply Irresistible is satisfying in an offbeat way, and the film is visually mouth-watering, but the terribly juvenile script and Gellar's lackluster performance bring it down several steps from what it could and should be. **½
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