What's Cooking? (2000)

Written by Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Starring Alfre Woodard, Mercedes Ruehl, Kyra Sedgwick, Julianna Marguiles, Joan Chen, Maury Chaykin, Dennis Haysbert, Estelle Harris


Released by Lions Gate
Rating: PG-13
Region: 1
Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Rent it.

Welcome to Los Angeles--not the L.A. you know from movies and television, but as close to the real one as cinema can get. Here you've got the literal melting pot--a veritable slew of cultures and people coming together...or not, as the case may be. Even in a setting where four families--one Jewish, one Asian, one Hispanic and one African-American--all live on the four corners of a residential intersection, they hardly ever, on a large scale, interact. But it's Thanksgiving, and the lines are about to be blurred.

Chadha gets points for her intent for the film: as she states in the commentary, she wanted to get the "real" Los Angeles on the big screen. And for the most part, she succeeds. The main reason for this is that the cast is stacked, and moreover, stacked with strong female roles--which is a nice change. Packing a script with such parts, it's easy to see how Chadha was able to land the actresses she did. Standout, though, would have to be Kyra Sedgwick--primarily because she's given the most to do. She already has a plot point going into the holiday and then she gets to drop a bomb at the dinner table--which, in a family situation, is always good for a bit of plot-moving friction.

Like I said, Chadha's motives are noble, but the execution leaves a little to be desired--and as they say, the devil's in the details. For example, while the opening sequence of streaming through Los Angeles and viewing all the various and sundry cultural sights is nice, Chadha's clever conceit of having a single song revamped for a specific musical style gets old very quickly. Anyone with half a brain can see we're in a different family's jurisidiction--we don't need the music to kick in with the plucking of Asian string instruments every time Chen and her brood show up. You just want to grab the director and plead, "Look, okay? We get it. They're different cultures in a single city and my, aren't they alike. We get it."

But it never stops. You're constantly getting too much in the way of cues for these cultural changes. And the scene where everybody's eating dinner goes on for days. Now, granted, you're thinking, "Jesus, Widge, look at the title of the movie," but still--again, she's beating us over the head with it: they're all alike even though they're different. Look at them all having Thanksgiving but their own special Thanksgiving for them. "Ahhh! Quit hitting me with your point!" This coupled with a very weak reason to get everybody out of their houses at the same time just doesn't fly very well. But like I said, you've got the actors there to buoy everything as best they can.

The commentary from Chadha and co-writer Berges is nice enough, because as I said: she's talking about her intention behind the film--give some great actresses some great parts and show what she feels is the real Los Angeles. They give a decent amount of behind the scenes talk and discuss their thoughts behind the script without ever becoming terribly boring. Which is always a plus. The other feature are a small spattering of interviews with various people--which appear to be rather vague on the part of the actors, who don't have much to offer. Not helping matters is the fact that the things are edited very poorly, cutting out at weird times.

Offhand, if you're looking for an interesting take on families that's a decent ensemble piece, you could do a lot worse than this entry. On the other hand, though, if you're looking for something laugh out loud funny in this subgenre, you'd probably be better off checking out Home For the Holidays or the like. This one's worth a rental, regardless.

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