director: gurinder chadha
mercedes ruehl, kyra sedgewick, juliana marguilies, joan chen
|.||If thereís a moral to be learned from Whatís Cooking?,
director Gurinder Chadhaís all-star ensemble piece about four hyphenated-American
families getting together for Thanksgiving dinner, itís that regardless
of our race, sex, sexual orientation, age or political leanings, we all
basically canít stand our families.
Perhaps thatís a bit of a glib reduction of this sprawling but enjoyable film, but itís describes the tone set early on -- and maintained consistently throughout the film -- as four Los Angeles families visit anguish and strife on each other as they try to prepare the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and trimmings from their various ethnic traditions as they collide and meld with the American melting pot.
While Mercedes Ruehl, the recently-separated matriarch of a large Mexican clan prepares a mouth-watering feast, her daughter brings home her new boyfriend, whoís trying to escape his Vietnamese family and his anguished mother, played by Joan Chen. A lesbian couple (played by Juliana Margulies and Kyra Sedgewick) suffer through a gruesomely tense Jewish family get-together (and, while stuffing a turkey, make what I swear is a fisting joke), while Alfre Woodard strives to create the most lifestyle-magazine perfect meal she can despite the interference of her down-home mother-in-law and the absence of a prodigal son.
The punchline is that all four families live across from each other at an intersection in a pleasantly middle-class neighbourhood, a sort of metaphorical ground-zero of the American Dream, and an only slightly trite touch. The filmís message of tolerance and acceptance of difference would be a lot more cloying if it werenít for great performances by actors like Ruehl and Woodard, though it provides more than enough evidence -- were it needed -- that politically, Hollywood always knows on which side its chads will fall. Not a film thatís likely to be a hit in the current White Houseís screening room.