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What's Cooking?

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: What's Cooking?

Starring: Julianna Marguiles, Alfre Woodard
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 2000
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Maury Chaykin, Joan Chen, Mercedes Ruehl, Kyra Sedgwick, Estelle Harris, Dennis Haysbert, Lainie Kazan

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

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

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