So there’s a magic crab. And that’s how things get started in the lightweight romantic comedy Simply Irresistible. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Amanda Shelton, a young woman who inherits her mother’s longstanding restaurant but runs it into the ground with her lack of cooking abilities. During her last visit to the market before the restaurant closes, she encounters two strangers, one jolly and one handsome. The first insists she buy a basket of crabs, but one gets loose – the magic one – and bites the second in the ankle. He is Tom Bartlett (Sean Patrick Flanery), a manager at the upscale designer store Henri Bendel who is trying to break things off with his girlfriend, the latest in a string.
Thanks to the crab, Amanda instantly becomes a skilled chef, a transformation never explained in detail. That’s just as well because there are few ways in which exposition would improve the story. Unlike other romcoms, this one doesn’t try to mask its fantasy in a veneer of reality. But it aims higher and tries for the breezy grace of old school Hollywood romances. Unfortunately, the movie stays grounded, going through the motions of love at best. There’s a grand centerpiece set, a restaurant that curls around a dazzling dance floor. There are heavenly éclairs that send people into fits of ecstasy. Patricia Clarkson in particular has a lot of fun as Tom’s assistant, fluttering about his couch in a giggly trance. There’s also a customer at Amanda’s restaurant so enamored with his meal that he wants the experience again, backwards.
These things are fun because they are silly, but only if translated well onto the screen. Gellar, who my Buffy-loving friends constantly remind me is something of a hero, lacks the energy I imagine she brings to her role as a vampire slayer. As Amanda, she is content to go with the flow and is more befuddled by her good luck than anything. She doesn’t take charge of the story, defaulting to a sweet but hopeless grin or to her BBF (black best friend), played with much more charisma by Larry Gilliard, Jr. It would be better if he didn’t spout motivational basketball metaphors, but at least he does so with flair.
Flanery also helps where he can. He’s game for the euphoric convulsions the part requires, like when he’s stuffing his face and writhing about in a gold elevator, but there isn’t enough chemistry between the him and Gellar to make the magic feel, well, magical. The script falters too when Tom cools on Amanda, reasoning that he’s been bewitched and wants to maintain control. There’s not much consequence when there’s not much of a relationship though.
Prod: Jon Amiel, Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr., John Fiedler
Dir: Mark Tarlov
Writer: Judith Roberts
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Patricia Clarkson, Dylan Baker, Christopher Durang, Larry Gilliard Jr., Betty Buckley, Amanda Peet
Time: 96 min
Country: United States