Top positive review
46 people found this helpful
Best eat and run with a Turkey Day fast-food burger
on 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.