What's Cooking

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
What's Cooking Movie Poster Image
A bit melodramatic at times, but still charming.
  • PG-13
  • 2000
  • 109 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Violence

 Child in peril.

Sex

Sexual references and situations, including adultery, teen sex.

Language

Some strong language.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and smoking, character gets intoxicated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie has some strong language and sexual references and encounters, including adultery and homosexuality. Characters smoke and drink. A child is in peril, and it gets very tense. The movie also includes family confrontations that may be upsetting to some people.

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What's the story?

As WHAT'S COOKING begins, the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays and we see a classic Thanksgiving poster on the side of a bus carrying very few passengers resembling its smiling Caucasian family. A very diverse group attends a school Thanksgiving pageant and then we follow four of the families, Jewish, Latino, African-American, and Vietnamese, as they celebrate this most American of holidays. The Jewish parents (Lainie Kazan and Maury Chaykin) struggle to accept their daughter's lesbian relationship. The Latino mother (Mercedes Ruehl) wants to introduce her new boyfriend to the family, and her estranged husband has been invited to dinner by their son. The Vietnamese family is coping with a son who has been suspended from school, a daughter who has a condom in her coat pocket, and an older son who is too busy to come home from college. And the African-American mother (Alfre Woodard) struggles with a demanding mother-in-law and a painful rift between her husband and son.

Is it any good?

Co-writer and director Gurinder Chadha brings a sympathetic outsider's eye to the stories of the four families, emphasizing their similarities more than their differences. All four of the families love each other, keep secrets from each other, want acceptance from each other, and drive each other crazy, just like everyone else. As one character says, "I guess you can't call it a family if someone isn't speaking to someone else."

Chadha handles the multiple story lines and large cast with an expert hand, cutting back and forth to underscore the similarities and the differences. We see potatoes prepared by hand, mixer, spoon, and food processor and the assortment of turkey presentations is one of the movie's best treats. Chadha has a good feel for American diversity. The stories can get a bit melodramatic, especially a close encounter with a gun near the end of the movie, and the stories veer from archetype to stereotype at times. But there is much to enjoy in its situations, characters, and performances (especially by Woodard and Ruehl), and it holds a lot of promise for future projects by Chadha.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about family communication. They should discuss why so many people felt that they could not tell the truth to their families, and how they would respond to some of the crises faced by the family members in the movie. They may also want to talk about some of their favorite Thanksgiving memories.

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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