Neil Young’s Film Lounge – What’s Cooking

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

WHATS COOKING

5/10

USA 2001
director : Gurinder Chadha
script : Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges
cinematography : Jong Lin
editing : Janice Hampton
music : Craig Pruess
lead actors : Alfre Woodard, Mercedes Ruehl, Julianna Margulies, Joan Chen
110 minutes

Four middle-class LA families one black, one Jewish, one Hispanic, one Vietnamese prepare their various Thanksgiving dinners. Whats Cooking is as schematic and well-meaning as it sounds: impeccable intentions, so-so results. The cast of well-chosen pros make the best of a script that nimbly sketches in a wide range of characters over different ages and backgrounds. And there are some unexpectedly sharp comic lines, most of them given to Margulies and Kyra Sedgwicks lesbian couple.

Its generally passably inoffensive stuff, as far as it goes, but we’ve seen this family-drama stuff so many times before on the big and small screens, and there isn’t anything sufficiently new or different this time. While nobodys expecting a Magnolia or even a Short Cuts, that’s no excuse for the over-familiar situations we get here, right up to the little-kid-gets-hold-of-a-gun finale (The studio is keen that reviewers resist the temptation to reveal the twist ending but its such a mild twist it barely deserves the name: many viewers will be unaware that its a twist at all.)

This isn’t the time! the characters keep snapping, clearly forgetting that, in US films, whenever families gather for special holidays, its always the time for arguments, intra-generational friction, the laying bare of home truths while the turkey cools, uneaten. The ethnic angle undeniably spices things up a little – its interesting to see the variations of the turkey dish that reflect the different families tastes, and the lingering culinary shots will set many stomachs rumbling. But, in the end, not quite loud enough to drown the sound of social-problem boxes being neatly ticked off, one by one by one.

27th June, 2001
(seen at Showcase, Nottingham, 8-Jun-01)

by Neil Young