What's Cooking?

Institute History


That most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, serves as the focal point for this raptly celebratory took at the modern American family. What's Cooking? interweaves the workings of four diverse Los Angeles households-African American, Jewish, Latino, and Vietnamese-as they make their preparations for arriving guests and relatives for the traditionally festive dinner. Who but an outsider to these goings-on would have the keen perception and discernment to capture the detail and nuance of family relationships and the cultural specificity of behavior, decor, and most of all food with this degree of accuracy and freedom?

Director Gurinder Chadha, an Englishwoman of Indian descent now living in Los Angeles, working with a wonderful cast and superbly talented collaborators, has created what could well become a classic holiday film of immense charm and energy. On one level practically a sociological study, What's Cooking? depicts both the literal and figurative in its immensely skilled portraits, touching upon class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and religion as it hits all the notes in this uplifting cultural chorale. The film flows from scene to scene, from kitchen to kitchen, from table to table, replete with recognizable familial tensions and joys, family history and transitions that create compelling drama and emotional payoffs.

From the rich and successful Williams family (Alfre Woodard and Dennis Haysbert) to the newly emigrated Trinh Nguyen (Joan Chen), the chaos of the Seeligs (Lainie Kazan and Maury Chaykin), and the internal furor of the Avilas (Mercedes Ruehl and Douglas Spain), What's Cooking? is a beautiful tapestry of love and anger, difference and familiarity and a moving vision of a changing America.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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