At first glance, What's Cooking? looks like it was dreamed up by some politically correct screenwriting committee: a series of overlapping stories that intercut among four families (one Hispanic, one Vietnamese, one Africa... more »n American, one Jewish) all preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. But what could be toothless and smarmy is made gripping and genuinely affecting by a mixture of observant writing, fluid direction, and a truly superb ensemble of actors, including Mercedes Ruehl, Alfre Woodard, Joan Chen, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgewick, Dennis Haysbert, and a host of less well known but just as capable others. The script is a marvel of orchestration: small annoyances blossom into fierce conflicts, secrets are deftly revealed, and sanctimoniousness is subtly punctured. The acute but sympathetic portrait of family stress and tension is layered with quiet observations about race and class, as well as the capacity for tolerance and forgiveness. It's recently become a cliché to have characters express themselves through food (examples include Soul Food, Big Night, and Eat Drink Man Woman), but What's Cooking? turns food into a witty exploration of culture as everyone prepares their turkeys in entertainingly different ways--this is not a movie to watch on an empty stomach. Warm without false sentiment, What's Cooking? is deeply enjoyable. --Bret Fetzer« less
Best eat and run with a Turkey Day fast-food burger
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 02/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After reaching adulthood, a family Thanksgiving celebration became problematic as I don't consider turkey (or the ham alternative) a festive dish. I'm not hard pressed to think of a better way to spend my time - such as going out for a burger and a movie. WHAT'S COOKING only reinforces my curmudgeonly attitude, but also left me with a smile.
This film has a cast of thousands. Let's just say that it involves four American families of varied background - Jewish, Black, Vietnamese, Mexican Latino - gathering for the Turkey Day ritual. Each has a festering dysfunction.
Ruth and Herb Seelig (Lainie Kazan and Maury Chaykin) welcome their daughter Rachel (Kyra Sedgwick) home for the holiday. Rachel brings her lesbian lover Carla (Julianna Margulies), much to Mom and Dad's discomfiture. Additional relatives, not yet clued in, are scheduled to drop by.
Trin and Duc Nguyen (Joan Chen and François Chau) have just had #2 son ejected from school. If that isn't enough, Trin has found a condom among #1 daughter's possessions. And #1 son isn't bothering to attend the gala affair at all, but is secretly going to the home of his Latino girlfriend, the Avilas.
Mrs. Elizabeth Avila (Mercedes Ruehl) is separated from her husband Javier (Victor Rivers) since he had a tempestuous affair with her cousin. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, son Tony (Douglas Spain) has invited Papa over for the holiday meal as he has nowhere else to go. Unbeknownst to Tony, Mom has her own bombshell to drop. And, of course, the Avila daughter, Sofia (Maria Carmen), has invited her non-Latino boyfriend.
In the meantime, Audrey Williams (Alfre Woodard) must both cook and make nice with her overly critical mother-in-law, Grace (Ann Weldon), while the former's husband, Ronald (Dennis Haysbert), referees. The state of the couple's marriage is tense, and their teenage son, Michael (Eric George), isn't expected to appear for unstated reasons, which perhaps is just as well as Ronald's approval rating of his boy is at an all-time low.
As the plot evolves, the obvious conflict in each of these households is revealed as only the tip of the iceberg.
Each of these culturally different families prepares its own favorite side dishes to accompany the de rigueur bird. Much screen time is dedicated to food preparation, and it's a joy to watch. My wife and I had a difficult time deciding which meal we'd want to crash. We ultimately decided on the Nguyen feast despite a critical culinary malfunction. KFC anyone?
Director Gurinder Chadha, and Indian woman born in Africa who grew up in London and married a Japanese-American, deftly escalates the tension in each group such that the dysfunction at each Thanksgiving table spirals out of control at the same rate, culminating in an unexpected bridge between the cultures.
WHAT'S COOKING is clever and enormously entertaining, as long as it doesn't happen to you. The fact that such or similar situations are likely commonplace in America's melting pot makes the film all the more reflective of a shared humanity. Kudos to Ms. Chadha for a thoroughly engaging movie equal to, if not better than, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING."
Surprisingly Decent - Good for a Rental
Mr. JKW | Honolulu, Hawai'i | 06/06/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For a movie I never heard of(being in the theaters), this was a surprisingly decent movie. The movie basically follows four families (a Hispanic family, Vietnamese family, African-American family and a Jewish family) as they prepare Thanksgiving dinner. Overall, it is a nice family movie despite the obvious dysfunction in each family (which is pretty realistic I suppose). Among the "issues" addressed in this movie: lesbian relationships, marital infidelity, the generation gap between parents and children, single parent homes, and gun violence. The ending of the movie surprisingly ties everything together into a nice bow but you still feel at the end of the movie like, "What a wacky world we live in."Overall, the movie itself is a nice watch, worthy of an afternoon rental viewing. It's definitely not a waste of money.Among the special DVD features in this film are interviews and commentaries from cast and crew members on a WIDE VARIETY OF TOPICS. The interviews are so-so. They're not worth the price of admission, but it's an "okay" bonus. The special feature in the DVD section I really liked were the recipes for some of the delicious dishes served up in some of the families' Thanksgiving dinners. That's a great DVD bonus.Here's my rundown:Great: The recipes in the DVD special featuresGood: The overall movie itself (storyline, acting, etc).Okay: The DVD bonus interviews, commentaries, etcBad: The pure dysfunction...but it's unfortunately all too true in our society...Overall, a nice effort for the cast and crew and the DVD makers.Recommended."
A great ensemble cast makes this a delicious feast...
Jon Rydin | Chicago, IL United States | 07/31/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Directed by Gurinder Chadha, this good ensemble piece centers on four Los Angeles families (in various stages of dysfunction) attempting to come together over Thanksgiving dinner. Though the story lines are familiar, the laughter and emotions keep this movie from being a leftover Turkey sandwich.The fantastic ensemble cast includes the always wonderful Alfre Woodard as a woman fighting the stress of maintaining peace in her family. Mercedes Ruehl turns in another good performance as a level-headed matriarch rebounding from a cheating husband. Kyra Sedgwick and Julianna Margulies are delicious as a lesbian couple trying not to spar with one set of parents (enably played by Lainie Kazan and Maury Chakin). Joan Chen is also great playing a tradition-based parent losing a battle against her rebelling teenage kids. Toss in Estelle Harris for extra laughs and wonderful turns from much of the supporting cast, and you can't go wrong.Though the movies' editing is somehwat choppy, it comes together nicely at the end. I'd highly recommend filling your plate with an extra helping of this gem. The enjoyment of laughter, possible tears, and multi-ethnic traditions make this one a winner."
The Melting Pot
Matthew Gladney | Champaign-Urbana, IL USA | 09/04/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Much like her 2003 hit movie "Bend It Like Beckham", Gurinder Chadha's "What's Cooking?" is infused with people who love one another very much, and so even though some tough issues are thrown their way, we know that, because of that love, they will get through life's obstacles ok."What's Cooking" centers around four families living on the same block in Los Angeles. They don't know each other, however, and instead, like most modern families, are focused on their own problems and worries. Chadha makes good use of "the American melting pot" idea, as one family is Italian, one is hispanic, one is black, and one is Asian. One of the most wonderful aspects of the movie is that, even though the people are of different ethnicities, they are portrayed respectfully as human beings. We can relate to each of them. They are different, but the same. Isn't that the underlying truth of us all? People are, indeed, people.There are some nice performances here: Alfre Woodard is great as a stressed, neglected wife. Dennis Haysbert is quiet, cool and simmering as her husband. Mercedes Ruehl shines as the mother of the hispanic family, trying to move on with her life from an ex-husband that just won't understand that it's over between them. Kyra Sedgwick and Julianna Margulies are endearing as a lesbian couple on their first trip to meet the parents. Estelle Harris (of "Seinfeld" fame) is deliciously wicked as the aunt who just keeps pushing the issue. And, of course, there's Lainie Kazan -- always a treat.I saw this film at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in 2003, and it was very well-received. There are dramatic, serious moments, and then there are quite hilarious moments. The theater was filled with laughter a number of times, and deservedly so. In the end, this is a 'feel-good' film. And one which will also have you salivating throughout, as each family is busy cooking and preparing their Thanksgiving dinners.This is the second Gurinder Chadha movie that I have seen, and from what I have tell, she seems to really believe the best of people. Yes, we fight. Yes, we quarrel. Yes, we disagree. But at the heart of humanity has to be love and understanding, if we are to get along and survive. "What's Cooking" embodies this sentiment wonderfully. It was a joy to watch."
Christian Treiber | Mustang, OK | 04/25/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What's Cooking is a film that the whole family can enjoy. Well written, acted and directed the film tells the story of four family's of different ethnic backgrounds getting together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Featuring an all star cast featuring Joan Chen, Julianna Margulies, Mercedes Ruehl, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard and A. Martinez to name a few. Written & Directed by Gurinder Chadha and produced by Jeffrey Taylor, Ethan Hurt and Steven D. Kravitz for Because Entertainment the film skillfully weaves together a story that is both interesting and entertaining. I would highly recommend this film to anybody that enjoys the cinema but is put off by the vulgarity in so many of today's films."