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:: What's Cooking

Set in the middle class Los Angeles neighbourhood, this enjoyable film follows the Thanksgiving feast of four families. It’s another link between cooking and life, in the mould of Babette’s Feast and Big Night. This four-in-one story has a distinct British flavour of being well-intentioned and clever, coming from Gurinder Chadha, a British filmmaker of Indian descent. She has apparently been keen to make a film about America. What better than Thanksgiving – a time of spirit and unity. Or so it’s supposed to be.

To keep the movie personal, Chadha invents four families to represent L.A.’s stunning diversity of cultures. She wants to explore the similarities and differences of how each celebrate a unique holiday. We see Vietnamese, Hispanic, African American and Jewish families. In capturing this theme, Chadha highlights the age-old issue of intolerance and family strife – made strongly by the generation gap.

Joan Chen stars as the mum of the Vietnamese family. She has a struggle with her rebellious teenage daughter’s acceptance of their culture. Alfre Woodard is part of the Williams family. Again, there is a struggle for togetherness in a set of untimely incidents. The Seeligs are Jews and have a lesbian daughter Rachel (Kyra Sedgwick). Julianna Margulies is her lover and comes to stay over amid obvious tension at Rachel’s sexual preference. The Avila family is in the midst of a separation between Elizabeth (Mercedes Ruehl) and her estranged husband Javier (Victor Rivers), and how their children deal with it.

Each family situation has its own unique problem at a time when unity stands tall in American society. Chadha handles the multiple storylines and large cast with an expert hand, cutting back and forth to underscore the similarities and differences. Above all, food lovers will drool at the wonderful feasts that are being prepared for Thanksgiving consumption. The turkeys, sauces, vegetables, sweets, etc are the film’s best treats. The plot can be viewed as a little melodramatic, especially a close encounter with a gun near the end of the film, but there is much to enjoy in the situations, characters and performances. Particular mention should go to Alfre Woodard as Audrey Williams and Mercedes Ruehl as Elizabeth Avila. Both are exceptionally fine actresses.

Parents should be aware that this film has strong language and sexual references, including adultery and lesbianism. There are family confrontations that may upset some people, but, through this, there are many talking points for parents and children – dealing with communicating the truth and responding to a crisis. Therefore, it’s not your typical all-American Thanksgiving film. Besides the traditional cooking experiences, this is a message film about respecting other people’s rights, being accountable for your actions, and accepting new cultural traditions. For some, the watching of food preparation may be more appropriate. “What’s Cooking” has the laughs, the drama, the direction, and the characters to complete an interesting presentation of Thanksgiving Day.

Screening at the Kino Cinemas, Cinema Como, Rivoli Cinemas, and Brighton Bay Cinema