London director Chadha brought us the charming culture clash of "Bhaji on the Beach" and now turns her attention to the divergence and unity of LA's ethnic melting pot at Thanksgiving in this vibrant homage to family.
Four families prepare turkey dinners and struggle to come to terms with the secrets, generational disagreements and alternative lifestyles that threaten to spoil their celebrations. The African-American Williamses are having a nouveau cuisine dinner, much to the disapproval of a criticising mother-in-law. Elizabeth Avila (Ruehl) is cooking her first Mexican banquet as a single woman. The Jewish Seegils are trying to understand their lesbian daughter (Margulies), while the Nguyens prepare a Vietnamese spread and try to shut out the fact that their son is involved in something that will intrude on all the families' festivities.
Funny but sharply observed, cleverly resolved without being neat, "What's Cooking?" provides a quartet of compelling, resonant and superbly acted tales for the price of one, plus a mouth-watering visual feast of culinary delights. Although this is a fine ensemble cast, top marks go to Woodard and Ruehl as very different matriarchs. Woodard's elegant, compressed businesswoman trying to cook up a storm and battle against her mother-in-law for familial supremacy is a masterclass in dignity, while Ruehl embodies poised female liberation and vitality as a woman re-learning to enjoy herself.
Like a good meal, "What's Cooking?" is a combination of fresh ingredients mixed together with skill to create a well-balanced harmony of diverse flavours. Delicious.
"What's Cooking?" is released in UK cinemas on Friday 31st August 2001. Visit the official website.