No Reservations (2007) -vs- Mostly Martha (2002)

No Reservations -vs- Mostly Martha

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

I’ve been thinking about food a lot (like this is news?) because I’m developing a TV series for my friend Mark Dacascos who plays “The Chairman” on Iron Chef America. His current show turns gourmet cooking into a gladiator sport, and that reminds me of a couple films dedicated to the behind-the-scenes clashes in the kitchens of high-end restaurants.  No Reservations is an almost scene-by-scene American re-make of the German film, Mostly Martha. Both tell the story of a woman chef at a top restaurant who has life plans rocked by the arrival of a child in her home after the death of a sister, complicated by the simultaneous hiring of a male chef at work who, at first, she sees as a challenge to her authority and later as a lover and a friend.

The Challenger

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) runs her kitchen with rapid precision, intimidating her co-workers, and necessitating therapy to keep it together. When her sister is killed in a car accident, she becomes the guardian of her nine-year old daughter Zoe (Abigail Breslin), and suddenly, life does not revolve around the kitchen anymore, no matter how much she wishes it did. Nick (Aaron Eckhart) joins the cooking staff as a rising star who could be the head chef of another restaurant, but wants to work under Kate. They are competitive, but ultimately they realize they need each other. Love blooms, and a new family is born. People differ on whether Zeta-Jones and Eckhart have any magic together, but one thing is certain: Abigail Breslin is great again, stealing this movie the way she did Little Miss Sunshine. She provides the true, authentic heart of this version, and everybody else feels like support to her lead.

The Defending Champion

Again, Mostly Martha is the original story that No Reservations follows very, very closely until, literally, the end, which was changed for the re-make. The names have been changed, too: in the German film it’s Martha, the chef, who inherits Lina, the niece, and falls in love with Mario, an Italian. After visiting Germany last year, my wife and I put some German films on our Netflix queue, and this one surprised us both when we saw it. We had no expectations at all. Yet, by the end, we didn’t even notice the subtitles, we were so into it as a film. Its rhythms felt very unscripted, unfolding at their own pace and not according to a some screenwriter’s guide to romantic comedy. There is a lot that is unclear in this film that can’t be blamed on linguistics, but it still feels honest and the acting seems to fill those gaps nicely in your brain as you watch it. You don’t finish it with questions but with a nice, satisfying answer.

The Scorecard

The conflict in the kitchen is much more clearly defined in Mostly Martha, simply by virtue of nationality. Martha, being German, is easily perceived as the embodiment of Teutonic precision, while Mario, being Italian, comes across with that wonderful Italian casualness. In this regard, it feels more authentic.

Since I had no idea who the stars in Mostly Martha were, it was much easier to accept them as real people. Also, take a look at Mario in the picture above. He is as imperfect looking a human as you could cast in a film and an incredibly stark contrast to the rock-solid handsome Aaron Eckhardt. Since both Catherine Zeta-Jones and Martina Gedeck are beautiful women, that was a toss-up, but again, it’s clear that one is a movie star playing a part. Zeta-Jones’s credits are with you in ever frame, even though she does look awesome in her perfectly tailored kitchen whites.

No Reservations is not some bloodless piece of filmmaking at all, but a competent story reasonably well-told. Do Zeta-Jones or Eckhardt look at all comfortable in a kitchen? Well, yes, sometimes. But there are moments when they look slightly less comfortable with each other. Chemistry is important with food and with romantic comedy. Gedeck and Castellitto, in their film, make you believe they are damaged goods who might possibly prove that the whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of the parts.

There is no doubt, however, that the distinction of best actress in the role of the sad little girl goes to Abigail Breslin. She is the new Dakota Fanning.

Besides the surface gloss of No Reservations, the biggest difference in the films is the ending. The European version took a sudden left turn at the end which gave it a feeling of surprise, like life. But in the hands of the Americans, the surprise was thrown out in favor of a cutesy, everything worked out wonderfully ever after ending that renders everything before it as a simple progression toward the inevitable.

Let’s see if we can cook up a decision here…

The Decision

It’s the casting, pure and simple. With Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhardt, it’s a Major Star Vehicle designed to manipulate our emotions in predictable ways, and there isn’t an instant of doubt about whether or not these two people are going to work out their issues. This is odd because Mostly Martha had me guessing, and yet it’s nearly the same film down to nearly all the scenes and a great deal of the dialogue. It has to be the actors whose unknown quality let me think that any outcome was possible. I enjoyed not knowing them, especially Sergio Castellitto as Mario with the big nose and sad eyes that you would never find in the lead of an American romantic comedy. Most of you will see only one of these, and if you do, it will probably be No Reservations as a date night movie, but really the one to watch is Mostly Martha.

About Bryce Zabel 199 Articles
Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, writer/producer and fast-food cook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of Movie Smackdown. While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, creator of five primetime network TV series, and author of a new non-fiction book about UFOs.

12 Comments on No Reservations (2007) -vs- Mostly Martha (2002)


  1. Just saw “Mostly Martha”. I did not know “No Reservations” was a remake of a foreign film until I watched “Mostly Martha”.

    I enjoy foreign (non American made) films and non American actors better. Non American actors are much better at acting and some foreign directors are so much better than Americans. I know, I was born and raised in the U.S. But I enjoy true good talent, and my money is hard earned and would rather spend it on a great movie with great actors than the mediocre fare Hollywood puts out.
    And the Breslin kids are alright, not great.


  2. I had the luck to watch Mostly Martha many years ago, and I totally loved it. When No Reservations came out I watched with a very critical eye. As Catherine Zeta-Jones being Welsh, I believed her character more cold. And as Aaron Eckhart being Aaron, I believed him being a relaxed Italian, he has lived in many places of the World and so on. Both girls are amazing, can’t really choose. But the screenwriters, the adapters who tried to make an ending more cheerful for the US version, yes, they did succeed, but they messed up. Real life isn’t like that. Mostly Martha is my version, definitely. I kept it in my heart, the actors, the director, everything… (and in my pinterest)…. LOL.


  3. I was thrilled with Mostly Martha. When No Reservations came out I had no idea it was a remake and Totally Enjoyed that Movie. For me it was a wonderful piece of work. This evening I was sitting with my wife watching a movie and it was just a few minutes into it that I made the connection. I was overjoyed that a beautiful movie like that was translated for English Speakers and done by some great professionals. So many more people will enjoy this great story. And then just maybe more people will get turned on to Foreign movies with subtitles. It kills me when people say they don’t watch foreign movies. Especially mature adults who actually need subtitles in English when the movie is in English and I am one of those people with hearing loss. When movies translate to our language we need to get down on our knees and give thanks to the people who do this work. The whole purpose of good drama is to connect people to their humanity. SO I AM JUST SAYING PRAISE BE….. Thank you.


  4. Mostly Martha was so much better – why not leave it alone when it is so well done, why make a remake. The American version is once again too cute and wrapped up in a little boa. So less lifelike.
    And though I love abigail, I also loved the real child reactions shown by the young german actress. And I am sorry, but Catherine Zeta Jones can not hold a candle to the german actress in the life-like human insecure, awkward moments she portrayed. I think the remake was a mistake.


  5. Thanks for posting this comparative review. I accidentally ended up with both movies at the same time and was trying to decide whether or not to watch Mostly Martha as well. I decided I was going to because of this review, and was thrilled that I did! I agree with the previous commenter – hamburger.


  6. So few remakes of foreign films top (or even match) the original. I totally agree with your appraisal, Bryce. Hollywood takes something original and fresh and unpredictable and applies all its usual genre tricks and standard structural rules and it comes out hamburger. Other examples of this phenom include virtually all the tepid star vehicle remakes of Francis Veber’s hilarious French film comedies and the egregious reworking of the lovely Japanese original of Shall We Dance. Go to the source. I can’t think of any exceptions to this rule. Can anyone?


  7. So few remakes of foreign films top (or even match) the original. I totally agree with your appraisal, Bryce. Hollywood takes something original and fresh and unpredictable and applies all its usual genre tricks and standard structural rules and it comes out hamburger.
    Other examples of this phenom include virtually all the tepid star vehicle remakes of Francis Veber’s hilarious French film comedies and the egregious reworking of the lovely Japanese original of Shall We Dance.
    Go to the source. I can’t think of any exceptions to this rule. Can anyone?


  8. I watched these films back-to-back over two nights. I found No Reservations to be highly annoying and highly Hollywoodized. No Reservations used words to move the story way too much, whereas Mostly Martha told the story more visually, with more resonance. No Reservations hits us over the head with a frying pan a few too many times. The subtlety of Mostly Martha is what makes it a great film. From the beginning, we see that she is a very good chef and takes it all very seriously, but she is still human and I very much care for her. Kate in “No Reservations” seems too perfect, too cool, too robotic for me to care about her as a character. The relationship Martha has with her therapist shows how much food rules her life and that she is being forced to go there, so she won’t let her guard down-it shows us what a tough nut she is to crack. This sets us up to root for something in her life to change. It is also a bitter-sweet moment that it has to come at the cost of losing her sister and having to take care of her forlorn niece. The relationship Kate has with her therapist in NR is merely to tell us what she is feeling as a convenient crutch to move the story forward.
    And the current of tension throughout MM of her niece’s father coming to take his daughter away at any point was what made the story so real for me. Was he going to be a good guy? A bad guy? Would he ever show up? Did I even want him to show up? In NR they mention her father once and that’s it. The niece also doesn’t seem to be too sad that her mother’s gone, I found Abigail Breslin to be a bit too sunny and happy. Whereas Lina was so sad a character that it made her interaction with Martha and Mario so much more interesting.
    These are just a few of the many faults I found in the American version of the film. So does this mean that us “Americans” are too dumb for subtlety? That we must have everything explained to us and hammered into us? MUST we have a SLOW-MOTION pillow fight?!?!?!? Can everything be made better by a well-placed game of monopoly? I wonder what some of our best movies would look like when done by a European director. Are the films we receive a product of our way of thinking or are we products of the dumbing down of story-telling in Hollywood cinema?


  9. Just re-read Karen’s comment. Great review by itself. Karen, give us a shout-out. Want to be a SmackRef?


  10. Smackdown,
    I also enjoyed “Mostly Martha” more than “No Reservations.” Though it had subtitles I was still sucked into the movie. “No Reservations” was more stale. I also liked the characters more (especially Mario, though maybe not our idea of “good looking” he is still the most dashing). And yes, I noticed the silly added bits of Americanization that make Hollywood so predictable like the Gothic Babysitter and the Opera loving Nick. Why can’t Hollywood just portray a boring uncaring babysitter and a chef who enjoys music? They think they have to make everything so extreme and over the top for us! Don’t spell it out for us! We can figure it out on our own!


  11. Smackdown,
    I also enjoyed “Mostly Martha” more than “No Reservations.” Though it had subtitles I was still sucked into the movie. “No Reservations” was more stale. I also liked the characters more (especially Mario, though maybe not our idea of “good looking” he is still the most dashing). And yes, I noticed the silly added bits of Americanization that make Hollywood so predictable like the Gothic Babysitter and the Opera loving Nick. Why can’t Hollywood just portray a boring uncaring babysitter and a chef who enjoys music? They think they have to make everything so extreme and over the top for us! Don’t spell it out for us! We can figure it out on our own!


  12. Smackdown,
    First of all, Mr. Zabel writes an excellent review. I like the point by point analysis–he could have fleshed out the review even more with this style as far as I’m concerned. Write on Mr. Zabel!
    I fell in love with “Mostly Martha” when I discovered it in the foreign section of one of our video shops–then it was up for sale when the store converted completely to DVD. I bought it and found myself inserting this slice of life video into my VCR a couple times a month. It was like a booster shot for life.
    Yes, Zeta-Jones is beautiful, but Gedeck is simply breathtaking because she is so unprocessed–natural from her teeth to her toes–she also sweats in the kitchen, her hair a bit disheveled–an anxiety about the mouth, a tremor here and there which added to the tension of the plot. I also can’t help buth think the artistic director and director of photography (I’m not entirely familiar with staff titles) deserve credit here for creating sensual scenes of tension that just can’t be beat in many of our American films. (Not all American films by any means:)!
    I agree with the Hollywood Romance formula–we knew how it was going to end before, well…the end. I clearly got the feeling that the director and actors for “No Reservations” studied the film pretty closely to mimic the scenes, and then the writer/producer/director adjusted it to an American audience.
    Attention Hollywood: We can handle fresh and spontaneous.
    Of course we had to Americanize or more accurately Hollywoodize–some goofy over the top bits like Kate serving Zoe a fish with its head attached. This scene along with others were hard to watch–I wish Zeta-Jones had refused to do this scene–it was a mild groaner.
    Another example of scene-adaptation-stupidity was the school principal telling Kate that she could have her niece taken from her because of her failure to keep her out of the “sweat-shop” at night. This scene along with a few others were a bit insulting and cheap. I’m in education and believe me, a principal would have been much more sensitive to addressing Zoe’s situation with her Aunt. I guess it’s obvious that it’s hard for a writer and director to stay away from the sensational material in the daily headlines.
    Vulnerability is what makes “Mostly Martha” soar. Take the scene with the fellow apartment dweller. She clearly tries to get something started here and he holds her off for a time. Yes, Gedeck is not a goddess, she is a human just like all of us. Sometimes she falls off the horse. Castellitto helps her get back on again.
    I thought it was interesting that Hollywood had to make Kate so perfect–even her faults were “sexy and crisp.” Zeta-Jones tried for the vulnerability piece, but it didn’t completely catch–her gestures were too calculated, the writing simply steered her into nirvana, but left the viewers behind here on this salty old earth.
    Speaking of salty, Castellitto becomes sexier as the film progresses, which again is so refreshing…he has a magnetism from this writer’s perspective that slowly burned throughout the movie. There is hope for regular old humanity and romance! If I had to choose, I would want that long lingering kiss to be from Castellitto rather than Eckhardt. “Pop!”
    The supporting actors in “Mostly Martha” were excellent. They danced in perfect harmony–no one was distracting–everyone right on. And I would have to say this was true of “No Reservations” as well–they synchronized nicely–the Americans were just a bit more…shall we say, glamorous, plastic and predictable.
    I have one point where I will have to beg difference with Mr. Zabel. Yes, Abigail Bresen did an excellent job, and I will agree with Mr. Zabel that she carried the film. However, the film should not have allowed this…she really should have remained soley supporting. The young girl in “Mostly Martha” was excellent. She was a whisper–sullen and sweet, she didn’t fill the screen with pre-adolescent angst, instead she was quite simply perfect as a supporting actress.
    All in all, I enjoyed both films, but “Mostly Martha” will remain equisite in the mind of this mainstream movie lover.
    Karen
    I liked “No Reservations” even though I had “reservations’ about it after seeing the previews

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