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What's Cooking? (Gurinder Chadha) 2000

What's Cooking?, I believe, opened this year's Sundance film fest, and it's definitely a better holiday family film than anything else being pushed as one this year. The film's far from perfect, but it has a teriffic cast & a script that manages to make the majority of its characters 3-dimensional.  It's a poor-man's Altman to be sure, but it's definitely a film that got better as it went along. Particularly of note is the way the film caters to a family audience, but doesn't seem watered down in its subject matter. The kids curse a bit, there are a few gay characters, and several instances of adultery, but at the same time the film's message is one that is pretty wholesome, which is refreshing. The other really interesting thing on display in the film is its multiculturalism. The film follows four extended families as they prepare for their Thanksgiving dinners, all of which are of a different ethnicity (Mexican, Asian, Jewish, and African American). The film is forward-thinking enough to show intermingling between the families and to place them in the same neighborhood. It is interesting to note that the film was written and directed by non-Americans (the director is from India). The downside to this freedom is that we have to sit through four times as many cooking montages along the way.

Alfre Woodard probably gives the best performance in the film (which does not surprise me) but the ensemble as a whole is actually quite good (this does surprise me). The direction is pretty uninspired, but the film's goals are rather modest, so it suits the film. None of the stories are boring (always the greatest pratfall in this sort of film) and none are given preference over the others. It is a shame a film like this gets a limited release, since it's really something that I would imagine most people would enjoy if they gave it a chance. There's the temptation to compare this film to a TV movie, but most TV movies aren't this deftly executed.

***

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman