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Four families. Four ethnicities. One holiday. Universal problems. What's Cooking?, with its all-star cast and focus on food and Thanksgiving, was full of promise. The summary for the film claims "an intriguing portrait of family tensions" with the common thread of an American holiday meal.
Unfortunately, despite the great actors (Mercedes Ruehl, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, and Joan Chen), the characters and ethnic portrayals were somewhat stereotypical. For example, the Jewish couple dotes on their son and doesn't understand their gay daughter, and the Vietnamese family keeps their business open during the holiday and misses on creating an American dinner.
Some critics have called What's Cooking? a feel-good movie, but four family gatherings full of tension and bickering (meddling mother-in-law, sullen teens, disappointed parents) left me far from feeling good. Although at the end the families find some sense of closure and may be on the road to understanding, it was too little, too late for me.
As for the food: Well, that's a totally different story. The kitchen scenes were beautifully filmed, and the variety of ethnic foods and classic American turkeys, were mouth-watering to behold. I watched the movie via NetFlix streaming, but I understand the DVD includes recipes for some of the dishes shown in the movie.
If you can get past the predictable plot and one-dimensional characters, you'll end up wishing for a dinner invitation from any one of the four families.