Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

What’s Cooking?


This is a food movie, like several others we’ve seen and liked, that centers around family and cooking. Usually it’s one particular culture that is explored in these things; this time it is wildly multi-cultural. I have to quote Roger Ebert here about the director, Gurinder Chadha: ” … an Indian woman of Punjabi ancestry and Kenyan roots, who grew up in London and is now married to Paul Mayeda Berges, a half-Japanese American. Doesn’t it make you want to grin?” Yes, it does. Chadha made Bend It Like Beckham and the Bollywood extravaganza Bride and Prejudice, so she seemed to be committed to feel-good movies. That’s okay, we like feel-good movies, if they’re honest and don’t try to cheat tears out of you.

It’s also a Thanksgiving movie, a small genre that includes the wonderful Pieces of April and … I can’t think of any others at the moment. Maybe Lee will. (Home For the Holidays, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Ice Storm, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I miss John Candy.)

And it’s very much an L.A. movie. In the last year we’ve come to know the city pretty well, the vast flat warm ethnic stew in the smog and, like Randy Newman, we love it. So how bad could it be?

Not bad at all. There are no real surprises, but a nice little revelation at the end which I won’t spoil for you. Premise is as simple as can be: Four families gathering for Thanksgiving, very different and very much the same. Old Americans, new Americans, brown and yellow black and white, as we used to sing in Sunday school (only I think for brown we sang red). Hispanic, Vietnamese, African-American, and Jewish. We see the stories being set up. Jewish daughter is a lesbian and has brought her girlfriend with her. Alfre Woodard has caught her husband cheating and is disrespected in her own kitchen by grandma. Vietnamese house is divided by old customs and new ways. (Laugh out loud moment: half their turkey is plain, American style, and half is basted in spicy chili, with no demilitarized zone between North and South.) Latino family has split but hubby wants to come back. Wife (a very good part for Mercedes Ruehl, who is half-Cuban) doesn’t want him, kids are divided. All standard bits, all worked out more or less happily after much tension, and it all works because of good writing and very good acting by all involved.

Along the way we see the preparations at all four households, accompanied by some really nice, really appropriate music. It all looks so good I’m getting a taste for cranberry sauce … but I have to say that if I could be invited to only one of these feasts, brown or yellow, black or white, I’d go with the brown. I don’t think I’d even need any turkey with all the delicious tamales and such served on the side.