Food and its preparation is one of the things that define us, our culture and how we come together with our families.
Writer/Director Gurinder Chadha (who will later write and direct Bend it like Beckham) brings us her first "american" film: an exquisite, sweet and even sexy (while brutally honest) look at contemporary family dynamics in present-day L.A, using food (and surprisingly enough, surfer music) as the thread to sew together the trials and tribulations of four "ethnic" families during a Thanksgiving day.
But "What's cooking" is more than "just" a food movie, or a Thanksgiving movie. Through an amazing ensemble cast (including Academy Award winner Mercedes Ruehl), ingenous cinematography, smart direction and an outstanding script, Director Chadra makes us feel the joys and pains of these characters.
The story itself is simple: follow the lives of four West L.A. families (Latino, Vietnamese, Black and Jewish) through a Thanksgiving Day. But immediately we get drawn into very powerful statements about love, family, community, divorce, diversity, racism, politics, tolerance and violence. We identify with these characters because we can all relate to their problems, and their family interactions.
I highly recommend this film because it is beautifully and skillfully done, and because of the great actor performances, particularly the female leads. Alfre Woodard is exquisite and brutally believable as the wife trying to keep her family together. Joan Chen, Lainie Kazan and of course Mercedes Ruehl all give extraordinary performances as the matriarchs of these families. Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick are a joy to watch as a lesbian couple. Dennis Haysbert ("24", Far From Heaven) is fabulous also.
For all you Seinfeld fans out there, you get a glimpse of Estelle Harris in yet another Estelle Costanza incarnation. With her, the loveable Ralph Manza as uncle David (Gepetto in "The Cigar Store Indian").
DVD extras include interviews (they're interesting, although not well edited; it feels like they were "thrown together" at the last minute,sometimes even cutting off mid-sentence, but the raw material is there), theatrical trailer, recipes, and a commentary track (with Writer/Director Chadha and co-writer and husband Paul Mayeda Berger). As expected, the commentary track gives us an inside look ad the writing, casting, production, cinematography and the filming process in general.
Expect bigger and greater things from this power couple.