Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha's feminine feast drama What's Cooking? serves up the ingredients for a potential tasty meal, but the remaining aftertaste leaves much to be desired. In the film, Chadha (Bhaji on the Beach) concocts a multi-ethnic, estrogen-driven drama that overextends itself to hysteria. The notion of profiling a broad range of distinctive, Los Angeles-based families preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday makes for an entertaining sociological premise, but Chandra's concentration on these culturally diverse women and their loved ones feels strained and contrived. She tries gallantly to fortify this film with her brand of cinematic seasoning, but the characters come off as a bunch of overdramatic caricatures going through the prototypical TV-movie-of-the-week antics. Consequently, What's Cooking? is a flavorless fable that is as hard to swallow as a piece of tough turkey.
The film's families consist of African-American, Asian, Jewish, and Hispanic protagonists, all exaggerated characters who weave in and out of hackneyed plots. From the Jewish perspective, there's the tongue-tied matriarch Seelig (Lainie Kazan) who has an annoyingly cute way of enunciating certain words. Ma Seelig is somewhat speechless when she eventually gets to meet her daughter Rachel's (Kyra Sedgwick) lesbian lover Carla (Julianna Margulies, late of television's ER). Then there's the Spanish viewpoint where an estranged couple, the Avilas (Mercedes Ruehl and Victor Rivers), are forced to reunite upon the insistence of their adult children. There's also obvious tension when Vietnamese Jimmy Nguyen (Will Yun Lee) dares to play footsies with Hispanic Gina Avilas (Isidra Vega). And the black family the Williamses (headed up by Alfre Woodard and Dennis Haysbert) has issues as well.
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