A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Thanksgiving is not a religious or patriotic holiday, and it's not hooked to any ethnic or national group: It's a national celebration of the fact that we have survived for another year, eat turkey to observe that fact, and may, if we choose, thank the deity of our choice. We exchange no presents and send few cards. It's on a Thursday, a day not associated with any belief system. And it nods gratefully to American Indians who have good reason to feel less than thrilled about the Fourth of July and Columbus Day.
"What's Cooking?" celebrates the holiday by telling interlocking stories about four American families that are African American, Jewish, Latino and Vietnamese. They all serve turkey in one way or another, surrounded by traditional dishes from their nationalities; some are tired of turkey and try to disguise it, while an Americanized Vietnamese girl sees the chili paste going on and complains, "Why do you want to make the turkey taste like everything else we eat?"
These families have been brought together by the filmmaker Gurinder Chadha, an Indian woman of Punjabi ancestry and Kenyan roots, who grew up in London and is now married to Paul Mayeda Berges, a half-Japanese American. Doesn't it make you want to grin? She directed; they co-wrote.
All four of the stories involve the generation gap, as older family members cling to tradition and younger ones rebel. But because the stories are so skillfully threaded together, the movie doesn't feel like an exercise: Each of the stories stands on its own.