They say that the way to a person's heart is through his or her stomach,
so one would think that before _Simply_Irresistible_, a food-centered
romance would have hit the big screen...
...oh, I forgot--_Like_Water_for_Chocolate_ got there first.
Then allow me to rephrase: one would think that one would come up with a
romance that was not only food-centered, but a fantasy where the besotted
chef's emotions magically manifest themselves in her cooking...
...oh, I forgot--_Like_Water_for_Chocolate_ covered that, too.
That leaves writer Judith Roberts and director Mark Tarlov with nary a
fresh idea between them, and stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sean Patrick
Flanery with nothing fresh to work with. The latter fact is especially a
shame, for Flanery and the luminous Gellar are wonderfully matched as,
respectively, wealthy department store manager Tom Bartlett and the young
woman he eventually falls for, a mediocre chef at a struggling New York
restaurant named Amanda Shelton. The two Meet Cute at a street food
market, where a mysterious stranger sells Amanda a basket of crabs, one of
which is magical (!) and pinches Tom's leg. Forcing a meeting between
Amanda and Tom is just the first trick up the crab's sleeve, for he turns
Amanda into a master chef, winning the hearts of many, not least of all
being the commitment-phobic Tom's, with her divine culinary masterpieces.
This setup plays about as dreadful as it sounds, with only the appeal and
chemistry of Gellar and Flanery keeping it watchable. But around the
midpoint, with the appearance of the object of its original
title--_Vanilla_Fog_--_Simply_Irresistible_ starts to develop some low-key
charm. At this juncture, Tarlov and Roberts appear to realize that the
mere presence of magic does not a magical film make. As exhibited in
Alfonso Arau's absolutely enchanting 1993 film _Like_Water_for_Chocolate_,
fantasy elements must be firmly rooted in the characters and story in order
to really work, and once the fog appears and lifts, the emphasis is placed
less on the magic than the characters, and as such that element feels more
like a necessary part of the story and not an arbitrary gimmick.
Even so, it's too little too late--the damage caused by the unpromising
opening and the annoying plot device of the crab (which, like the stranger
who sells it to Amanda, is never explained) is done, and the effectiveness
of _Simply_Irresistible_'s latter half merely serves as a glimpse of what
might have been had the filmmakers been more focused. As such, this murky
and ultimately bland effort lives up to that former title--_Vanilla_Fog_,