Home is for heartburn

Gurinder Chadha’s multiculti Thanksgiving cookout.

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Whipping up a batch of Thanksgiving tamales.
  • Whipping up a batch of Thanksgiving tamales.

Our melting pot gets stirred up in What’s Cooking?, a multicultural look at what Thanksgiving entails for four ethnically diverse families in Los Angeles. The screenplay by director Gurinder Chadha (Bhaji on the Beach) and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges is a gimmicky but bountiful exploration of what constitutes family in a fractured global village.

Dinner preparation is in the hands of women whose perspective determines the mood of their respective households. Elizabeth Avila (Mercedes Ruehl) has finally broken away from an errant husband, a decision interpreted differently by the men and women in her large family. Ruth Seelig (Lainie Kazan) wonders that if her daughter (Kyra Sedgwick) rejects tradition by bringing her lover (Julianna Margulies) along for the holiday, will she ultimately reject her traditional family as well? Trinh Nguyen (Joan Chen) cooks two dinners to please three generations living under one roof, where cultural assimilation is a hot topic. Audrey Williams (Alfre Woodard) struggles to prepare a picture-perfect Thanksgiving feast to mask the fact that her marriage to a workaholic (Dennis Haysbert) is perilously eroding.

Chadha, who displays a gentle humor and a generous view of cross-cultural relationships, shows how three Thanksgiving basics (turkey, cranberries, mashed potatoes) are accented by a host of other cuisines as each family interprets what being an American means.

Dinnertime conversations grow heated (everyone seems to have a secret ripe for exposure), but as Chadha skillfully crosscuts between four increasingly complex storylines, she continually zooms in on the prickly relationship between parents and their grown children. The generation gap, she insists, is still the greatest divide.

With a generosity often absent from actual Thanksgiving celebrations, Chadha rewards the efforts of those who, when gazing at the strangers their family members have become, try once again to envision them as loved ones.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

Showing exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

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