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In LA's Fairfax district, where ethnic groups abound, four households celebrate Thanksgiving amidst family tensions. In the Nguyen family, the children's acculturation and immigrant parents' fears collide. In the Avila family, Isabel's son has invited her estranged husband to their family dinner. Audrey and Ron Williams want to keep their own family's ruptures secret from Ron's visiting mother. In the Seelig household, Herb and Ruth are unwilling to discuss openly their grown daughter's living with her lover, Carla. Around each table, things come to a head. A gun, an affair, a boyfriend, and a pregnancy precipitate crises forcing each family to find its center. Written by
Delightful Women-Focused, Multi-Ethnic Celebration of Family
"What's Cooking" is one of the most non-dogmatic feminist movies I've seen (as compared to say "24 Hour Woman") as exemplified by a climactic scene of one mother stuffing her face with two pieces of homemade pie amidst crisis while declaring "I'm weak? Is it weak to want to hold the family together?"
So many holiday or family gathering movies (like "Avalon" and "Hannah and her Sisters" and "Eat Drink Man Woman") have been made by men and they always felt off balance to me compared to my observations and experiences. Here the women in the kitchen are symbolically and functionally at the center of the meal preparation, the meal and the families.
Other women directors have been successful at portraying a single ethnic group's family issues, such as "Double Happiness" or Nancy Savoca's "True Love." But this is a multi-ethnic All-Americans Thanksiving in L.A. (reminding me of the children's book "Molly's Pilgrim") an L.A. where people from different traditions (Vietnamese, Chicano, African-American and Jewish) all integrate the trappings of the Pilgrims into that basic of ethnic identity--food-- to intersect in unexpected ways, at work, in the community, in their homes and in their hearts.
It's an impressive cast of actresses in particular; it's noteworthy that such a stellar cast would do a small indie -- clearly they jump at the chance to get "meaty" roles for women.
The audience laughed, and cried, and gasped. While your popcorn will pale beside the feasts before your eyes, be sure to eat something during the movie cause you'll be real hungry afterwards!
(originally written 11/19/2000)
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