Thanksgiving is not a patriotic or religious holiday. It isn’t tied to any national or ethnic group. We eat turkey to celebrate the fact that we survived another year. And, if we wish, we may thank the deity of choice. We send only a few cards and exchange no gifts. It is on a Thursday. This day is not associated with any religious belief. It also acknowledges American Indians, who may be less excited about the Fourth of July or Columbus Day.
“What’s Cooking Movie?” The holiday is celebrated by sharing interconnected stories about four American families, which include Latino, Jewish, Latino, and African Americans. All of them serve turkey in some way, with traditional Vietnamese dishes. Some are tired of turkey and try disguise it. An Americanized Vietnamese girl, however, sees the chili paste and says, “Why do I want to make the turkey taste the same as everything else we eat?”
Gurinder Chadha (Indian woman with Punjabi ancestry, Kenyan roots) brought these families together. She grew up in London, and is now married, half-Japanese American, to Paul Mayeda Berges. It makes you smile. They co-wrote; she directed.
The generation gap is a theme that runs through all four stories. Older family members hold on to tradition while younger ones rebel. what’s cooking movie isn’t a tedious exercise because each story stands alone.
The generation gap is not limited to one generation. Alfre and Dennis Haysbert play the parents of a college-aged student who prefers to be radical than a professional. However, tension is added by the mother of the father, who carefully examines the menu of her daughter-in law and is surprised that there is no macaroni or cheese. This is a staple at any traditional African-American meal.
A video store is owned by a Vietnamese family. Grandma Nguyen (Kieu Chenh) is less assimilated than her family. However, in the kitchen her eyes never miss a thing and her strong opinions are almost enforced almost telepathically. The kids are in trouble: Is the daughter sexually active and is the son involved with gangs, or is that the latter? Joan Chen portrays the mother. She is a peacemaker in a dysfunctional Great Salt Plains Health Center family where her father rules too rigidly.
The Latino Thanksgiving begins when the children are shopping at the supermarket and meet their father (Victor Rivers), separated from their mother (Mercedes Ruehl). He invites them to dinner, but they don’t ask her. On the other hand, she doesn’t tell them that she invited her new boyfriend, who is a teacher, to dinner.