Mostly Martha Movie Review
First-time director Sandra Nettlebeck introduces Martha (Martina Gedeck) as an obsessive-compulsive chef at a chic restaurant in Hamburg, Germany, with no friends, no love interest, and no life other than an unparalleled knowledge of cuisine and the ability to cook any gourmet meal to perfection. As expected from an against-all-odds love story, Martha embodies the typically cinematic diamond-in-the-rough protagonist combining talent and beauty yet faced with a fatal flaw that plunges her into misery. Touted by her boss as "the second best chef in the city," she appears haughty and overly obsessed with "cooking by the book." In fact, in all her culinary glory she forgets that despite her impressive skills, the customer is always right. It becomes clear that Martha's manic tendencies must be overcome in order for her to gain personal fulfillment.
Stuck in a lonely rut, Martha suddenly finds that there's more to life than a tenderly basted filet mignon and grilled Portobello mushrooms when her sister, a single mother, is tragically killed in a car accident. Forced to adopt her eight year-old niece Lina (Maxime Foerste), Martha is unable to relate to the heartbroken child, and her gloominess is compounded by Lina's refusal to eat any of the extravagant meals Martha prepares. To make matters worse, her boss has hired another chef in the restaurant whom Martha despises. Chef Mario (Sergio Castellitto) is tardy, flirts with the waitresses, wears a swarthy beard, sings and dances to standards on his rusted out radio while he cooks, and his "So intense, so Italian" attitude embodies everything that Martha is not. Can you just smell what Nettlebeck is brewing when the two are forced to get along?
By this time, Martha, who hasn't eaten an ounce of food throughout, finally bites into a plate of delicious looking pasta after a subterfuge by clever Chef Mario, claiming that the dish was his dying mother's recipe. With that first scrumptious morsel, Martha symbolically begins the transformation into a more complete person, as she boldly confronts her new reality of raising a small child and is forced to share the spotlight with a ridiculously proud bohemian chef.
German subtitles hardly detract from the fun because, after all, this is a love story, and the follies of love transcend language. Mostly Martha can best be described as a case of Frankie and Johnny meets Baby Boom, for it takes the two distinct personalities of a mulish little girl and an overtly masculine Guido-type to bring joy to Martha's life. Gedeck's talents fare favorably in comparison with American greats Michelle Pfeiffer and Diane Keaton in their respectively similar roles. Sergio Castellitto, while he looks eerily similar to Al Pacino when dawning his apron, packs a much-needed comedic punch.
Overall the picture is a real treat, but it's hardly perfect. The plot is as predictable as the menu at a Greek diner, and the dull score weakens the ambiance. However, you'll be so caught up in the imagery of food and the delicate touch of romantic humor, that its flaws are easily overlooked. At the very least, I promise you'll leave the theatre with a ravenous appetite.
Aka Drei Sterne.