Like visual crib notes for reviewers, the opening to Gurinder Chadha's
WHAT'S COOKING? sweetly and concisely summarizes the movie's message.
As the national anthem plays in the background, a turkey slowly comes
into focus. The camera pulls back to show us that the turkey is part of
a Thanksgiving meal in a Norman Rockwell-style painting on the side of
an L.A. city bus. We then cut to the multi-ethnic tapestry of life
inside the bus.
Set at the quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving, the movie
celebrates our country's melting pot tradition. The warm-hearted but
completely forgettable WHAT'S COOKING? would have been more
appropriately released as a television movie for the holiday season.
Four large families -- one black, one Vietnamese, one Jewish and one
Latino -- gather for Thanksgiving in their homes on opposite corners of
a street in a middle-class LA neighborhood. Taken together, the
families become the dots in a large pointillism canvas. Their numerous
stories are little more than clichés on their own, but taken together
they form a handsome portrait of American life.
The extensive ensemble cast includes Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Ann
Weldon, Mercedes Ruehl, Maria Carmen, Victor Rivers, Douglas Spain, A
Martinez, Lainie Kazan, Maury Chaykin, Kyra Sedgwick, Julianna
Margulies, Estelle Harris, Joan Chen, Will Yun Lee, Kristy Wu and Jimmy
Pham. Each actor gets a brief time on stage, but none gets a
well-developed character. Loud, warm-hearted music fills in the gaps
left by the erratic story.
As in LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and other motion pictures that celebrate
the joy of cooking, WHAT'S COOKING? features significant amounts of food
photography. Jong Lin's lensing of the food is quite respectable and
colorful but doesn't have the mouth-watering appeal of most food films.
Still, this is certainly the longest product placement ever for
America's turkey breeders.
As the families have their small squabbles and discussions prior to and
during their big culinary events, their conversations never amount to
much nor are they intended to. This is a mood piece that intends mainly
to evoke a warm nostalgic feeling in the viewers, which it does quite
successfully. Even if WHAT'S COOKING? is little more than an ephemeral
treat, it is a relatively flawless one. Save one shamelessly
manipulative scene which the studio has specifically asked critics not
to reveal, there isn't anything wrong with it. WHAT'S COOKING? is a
movie that conjures up respectful, but not enthusiastic adjectives.
It's a nice, pleasant but inconsequential picture.
WHAT'S COOKING? runs 1:46. It is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, brief
language and a perilous situation and would be acceptable for kids
around 10 or 11 and up.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes