What’s Cooking?
The family that roasts together. Margulies, Kazan and Sedgwick get their hands in there...
dir Gurinder Chadha
scr Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges
with Mercedes Ruehl, Alfre Woodard, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick, Joan Chen, Dennis Haysbert, Will Yun Lee, Isidra Vega, Lainie Kazan, Maury Chaykin, Estelle Harris, A Martinez
release US 17.Nov.00; UK 31.Aug.01
00/US 1h49

3½ out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
food, tradition and relative insanity Four Los Angeles families try to enjoy Thanksgiving in this multi-racial comedy-drama. It's all a bit contrived and girly, but still surprisingly effective and engaging. The Nguyens (Chen, Lee, et al), the Avilas (Ruehl,Vega, et al), the Seeligs (Sedgwick, Kazan, Chaykin, et al) and the Williamses (Woodard, Haysbert, et al) are neighbours who don't know each other. They're gathering family and friends for the holiday, combining American traditions with their own cultures, but they all have one thing in common: the tensions that bubble up inside every family. In some cases this involves outsiders (Margulies as Sedgwick's girlfriend, Martinez as Ruehl's new man) and in others it involves skeletons tumbling out of closets and various cans of worms.

With its natural rhythms and warm humour, the film wins us over immediately then sets about deepening and growing its characters until we're completely enmeshed in each situation. The Vietnamese plot line is a bit high-strung, with the weakest acting in the bunch, but still manages to send a chill down our spine as it examines societal influences and intra-family communication. The Latinos are a bundle of nerves with the estranged spouses at the centre and a fierce streak of machismo. The Jewish family is trying its hardest to be tolerant of each other in the film's most comical plot thread. And the black family struggles to overcome serious misunderstandings and mistrust. Overall, the cast is superb, and director-cowriter Chadha juggles the stories beautifully without scrimping on anything--she never wallows in the difficulties or gets maudlin about the emotions, which often find real resonance. The convenient ethnic mix gives a nice portrait of cultural diversity in America, with only the briefest hint of racism. But it nicely plays with stereotypes and expectations. All of this makes it all feel a bit superficial ... but that's only because it touches on such a wide variety of themes and issues. Oh, and the food looks absolutely delicious. When do we eat?
themes, language cert 12 12.Aug.01

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