What's Cooking?

What's Cooking?


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When ensemble movies work, they are a joy and a pleasure. Meet Gurinder Chadha. She's British, or so they like to boast. In fact, she was born a Kenyan Asian, started her career as a BBC news reporter, went on to direct award-winning documentaries and eight years ago her first feature, Bhaji On The Beach, which became a favourite at international film festivals.

What's Cooking? is better than Bhaji. It is an ensemble movie. And it works. O joy!

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The setting is Los Angeles, where four families live close to each other. They are not in and out of each other's houses, but prepare, in their own particular way, for the Thanksgiving celebration, where feasts are created, centring on the biggest turkeys you have ever seen.

The cultural mix includes African-Americans, Vietnamese, Italian-Americans and Jews. Each has their own recipes and their own problems. The Thanksgiving weekend is like Christmas, when families come together and old wounds are healed. Or not.

Audrey Williams (Alfre Woodard) has to cope with a bossy mother-in-law, a workaholic husband who has just ended an affair and a rebel son. Elizabeth Avila (Mercedes Ruehl) has started a relationship with a fellow teacher, after her husband walked out with her cousin, but her grown-up children are unaware of this. She invites him to the Thanksgiving meal, without telling them, while her son has asked his dad.

Ruth Seelig (Lainie Kazan) is happy that her daughter is bringing her friend, Carla, home, although her husband cannot accept that they are a lesbian couple. He is afraid that when the rest of the family arrive, something is going to be said, which it is, of course, but not exactly in the way that you expect. Trinh Nguyen (Joan Chen) has an independently minded teenage daughter and a difficult son, who, it turns out, has a gun stashed away under his bed. "What is happening to my children in this country?" she wails. They are pretty much alright. It's the older generation who have difficulty adapting.

Chadha and her half Japanese, half American husband, Paul Mayeda Berges, have written an absorbing, intelligent, amusing and topical script, beautifully realised by an excellent cast. If you thought Jodie Foster's Home For The Holidays was the ultimate Thanksgiving disaster movie, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2001
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Four multiracial families in suburban LA prepare for Thanksgiving celebrations.
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Director: Gurinder Chadha

Writer: Gurinda Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges

Starring: Joan Chen, Mercedes Ruehl, Alfre Woodard, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick, Maury Chaykin, Lainie Kazan, Dennis Haysbert

Year: 2000

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/US


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