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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon February 24, 2005
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.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2001
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 features
Good: The overall movie itself (storyline, acting, etc).
Okay: The DVD bonus interviews, commentaries, etc
Bad: 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.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2001
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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2003
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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2002
There are indie films,and then there are stay-with-you always amazing indie films. The cast is only the icing to a tale weaved so subtly the ending would blow you away (well, not to give it away).

Like the culinary theme, which also left me hungry, this is one film which will whet your appetite for the acutely accurate portrayal of the immigrant society in America. I know as an Asian I was stunned by the director's resounding voice in her unflinching representation of that community. And the range of emotions it will evoke will leave you laughing, crying, thinking...just from one scene to another. I also appreciate the really uncheesy, un-gratituous lesbian story-line (but of course a lady director would know better!)

So it's a keeper. Buy it so you can share it with people you love and so you can watch it again.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2001
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 12, 2007
WHAT'S COOKING is a really well-made film about Thanksgiving meals in the homes of four different families (Vietnamese, Mexican-American, African-American and Jewish). The intersecting stories are dramatic, engrossing and touch on subject matter like homosexuality, interracial dating, extramarital affairs and gang violence. I don't want to ruin your experience with this film by getting too involved in plot details. I will say that it manages to depict families from different cultures, celebrating the same holiday together, in an incidental manner so as not to appear excessively "Rainbow Coalition" and politically correct (in other words, you won't feel a chorus of "Kumbaya" coming on). What's more, it has "an all star" cast, including Alfre Woodard and Mercedes Ruehl. I think you'll enjoy it!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2004
Food and its preparation is one of the things that define us, our culture and how we come together with our families.
Writer/Director Gurinder Chadha (who will later write and direct Bend it like Beckham) brings us her first "american" film: an exquisite, sweet and even sexy (while brutally honest) look at contemporary family dynamics in present-day L.A, using food (and surprisingly enough, surfer music) as the thread to sew together the trials and tribulations of four "ethnic" families during a Thanksgiving day.
But "What's cooking" is more than "just" a food movie, or a Thanksgiving movie. Through an amazing ensemble cast (including Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl), ingenous cinematography, smart direction and an outstanding script, Director Chadra makes us feel the joys and pains of these characters.
The story itself is simple: follow the lives of four West L.A. families (Latino, Vietnamese, Black and Jewish) through a Thanksgiving Day. But immediately we get drawn into very powerful statements about love, family, community, divorce, diversity, racism, politics, tolerance and violence. We identify with these characters because we can all relate to their problems, and their family interactions.
I highly recommend this film because it is beautifully and skillfully done, and because of the great actor performances, particularly the female leads. Alfre Woodard is exquisite and brutally believable as the wife trying to keep her family together. Joan Chen, Lainie Kazan and of course Mercedes Ruehl all give extraordinary performances as the matriarchs of these families. Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick are a joy to watch as a lesbian couple. Dennis Haysbert ("24", Far From Heaven) is fabulous also.
For all you Seinfeld fans out there, you get a glimpse of Estelle Harris in yet another Estelle Costanza incarnation. With her, the loveable Ralph Manza as uncle David (Gepetto in "The Cigar Store Indian").
DVD extras include interviews (they're interesting, although not well edited; it feels like they were "thrown together" at the last minute,sometimes even cutting off mid-sentence, but the raw material is there), theatrical trailer, recipes, and a commentary track (with Writer/Director Chadha and co-writer and husband Paul Mayeda Berger). As expected, the commentary track gives us an inside look ad the writing, casting, production, cinematography and the filming process in general.
Expect bigger and greater things from this power couple.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2005
This wonderful movie by Gurinder Chadha, the British-Indian director of "Bend It Like Beckham," tells the story of 4 Los Angeles families and their take on Thanksgiving celebrations. These African-American, Latino, Jewish, and Vietnamese families seem very different but their stories are connected by their relationships and hardships with eachother and their identity as Americans. Chadha also weaves in many controversial issues such as lesbianism, interracial romance, gun violence, multiculturalism and assimilation against a visual feast of traditional and ethnic foods.
This film, like all Chadha's films, is a masterpiece. She has the ability to address very controversial and complicated issues while maintaining an up-beat pace. Her films are also visually stunning with beautiful and authentic cultural elements. Chadha really understands and respects diverse cultures. I highly reccommend her first film "Bhaji on the Beach" and keep a look out for the up-comming film "The Mistress of Spices" directed by Chadha's husband based on the book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This will star the Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai who is in Chadha's film "Bride and Prejudice," another great film to see!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 25, 2003
This is a fun premise -- spending the Thanksgiving holiday with four very different LA families -- that is executed very well, with capable direction and a fine cast. Children are coming home and families are setting extra places as friends and members of these families -- one Asian, one Hispanic, one Jewish and one African-American -- get together and face various real-life issues such as parent-child disagreements, meeting the SO's parents, in-laws, adultery, etc. The movie could have been riddled with cliches, but a decent script and excellent cast -- including Mercedes Ruehl, Alfre Woodard, Lanie Kazan, Dennis Haysbert and Joan Chen -- make this an entertaining film that is part drama but mostly comedy. Don't watch this while you're dieting, though, as there are many scenes of the wonderful dinners being prepared.
DVD features include subtitles in English, French or Spanish; a commentary track with writer/director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Backham) and co-writer Paul Berges; interview segments with the director on the characters and on Thanksgiving, with Kyra Sedgwick on Julianna Margulies, with Mercedes Ruehl on the film's premise, with Dennis Haysbert on Los Angeles, with Joan Chen on food, and with Alfre Woodard on Chadha; and recipes for Vietnamese spring rolls, tamales, rustic (apple) pie, macaroni & cheese, noodle kugel and oyster-shiitake stuffing.
Definitely a worthwhile rental.
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