What's Cooking?
dir. Gurinder Chadha
Opens Fri Nov 17 at Broadway Market

PROBING FOR A genre in which to stash this flick, I found that it exhibited all the qualities of a feature-length soap opera. Soap operas operate by revealing secrets in the most excruciating manner possible. Relying on the deceitful nature of the secret itself, director Gurinder Chadha goes about the laborious preparations to ensure that the film climaxes in a metaphorical striptease act, where those coveted secrets are exposed in rapid succession. Will machismo prevail or get its ass kicked when Elizabeth's new lover and her separated husband both show up? What is under Gary's bed and why did he get kicked out of school? Will the Seelings' dinner-party guests find out that their daughter's housemate is really her lesbian lover? Of course they will! The striptease will be racy and skillfully done. But I'll have to slam on the brakes here and tell you the unglamorous truth: What's Cooking is a movie about Thanksgiving.

The film focuses on a Vietnamese, Jewish, black, and Latino family as each celebrates Thanksgiving. Unconventional as it is for Chadha to frame four ethnically diverse families who face quite modern dilemmas on this most obese of our national holidays, the actual process of introducing them all becomes a mundane mental tongue twister.

After enduring these long and uneventful introductions, however, the film gains momentum, which pacifies any remnants of a nagging psyche. Chadha shows us all that the true meaning of Thanksgiving is social discomfort. Emotional distress is shown prodding tradition's stubborn disposition into a rare state of tolerance and acceptance.

"Maybe there's meaning here after all," I mused, but then my fragile affinity was irrevocably severed by an unexpected saboteur: the turkey, its asexual self.

Chadha swerves into long and indulgent close-up views of cold, wrinkled turkeys, and then continues on an in-depth tour of different cooking implements, both electric and manually powered, before ending with sentimental aerial views of the completed platters themselves. Hideous!