This latest film outing is the first in a glut of new movies for the former Darling Buds of May star, who has managed to become one of the most successful female British stars in Hollywood over the last ten years or so. Though coming up to her 38th birthday, so nearing the age where Hollywood traditionally begins to lose interest in actresses known for their good looks, she’s still just as stunning as ever, and still seems to be in much demand, despite her last couple of big screen outings having come in for a bit of a critical mauling.
Rather oddly, Zeta-Jones has opted for a film that could almost be considered a partial remake of a very recent Hollywood romantic comedy for her return to the screen. 2004’s decidedly average Kate Hudson vehicle Raising Helen revolved around a workaholic young woman suddenly having to act as mother to a young child, and that’s precisely the set-up here.
Romantic comedies traditionally become hits based on the charm of the two protagonists, so taking on the role of a self-centred master chef with no time for anything other than her work could seem like a bit of a challenge. Zeta-Jones’ character is, after all, supposed to be the archetypal career woman, focussed exclusively on doing her best in her job and neglecting all the little things that make life worth living. Challenged first with the arrival of her young niece, whom she has to look after while maintaining her career, and then by the arrival of a new hot-shot, extrovert male chef to challenge her in her kitchen, though this may only be a romantic comedy, giving a convincing performance while allowing her character to develop into the kind of caring, sharing woman that Hollywood always loves is a bit of a challenge.
But Zeta-Jones has always been good at both playing aloof characters – as in 2001’s America’s Sweethearts – and turning on the charm – most notably with her breakthrough TV role in The Darling Buds of May. For us Brits, who’ve known her for so long, it’s often quite easy to underestimate her acting potential. But when given as talented and charming a love interest as Thank You For Smoking’s Aaron Eckhart, an actor with great things ahead of him, she’s more than capable of delivering the goods.
This is by no means a groundbreaking romantic comedy, but one firmly after the traditional pattern. It’s never likely to earn a place on anyone’s list of favourite movies either. But that’s no bad thing – rom coms are, after all, pure escapism, and work best when there are characters you can care about at the core. Thanks no doubt in part to her British roots, its’ always hard not to root for our Catherine when she’s on screen, and as such this makes for a perfectly pleasant cinematic diversion.
It’s no When Harry Met Sally, but then it’s no bog standard Jennifer Lopez vehicle either – and for that, at least, we should be grateful. And in any case, it’s good to see Zeta-Jones back on screen again after her temporary hiatus from the limelight.