Combine The Joy Luck Club and Grand Canyon, fold in a little Soul Food, sprinkle with Home for the Holidays: voila — What’s Cooking? All that’s missing is some Secrets & Lies to make it stick to your ribs. Director Gurinder Chadha follows four Los Angeles families as they project and deny and confess through Thanksgiving, and, like the meal itself, the movie’s both filling and familiar.
It’s also an actresses’ showcase: Mercedes Ruehl is tart and sexy as a Latina matriarch rebounding from a rat husband; Joan Chen, playing a Vietnamese mother losing her teenage kids to America, is a study in priggish fear; Kyra Sedgwick and Julianna Margulies are nicely flummoxed as a lesbian duo dealing with the former’s Jewish parents; and Alfre Woodard is brilliant as a woman about to explode from the stress of maintaining peace between husband, son, and mother-in-law.
Chadha has trouble juggling all these balls — the climactic truth-telling in each household gets blunted by the crosscuts — but the real mystery is why Lions Gate is giving this sweet little movie a limited release now, when turkey-time family tensions are the last thing most filmgoers want to see. With luck, it’ll find its audience on video, long after the table, and the smoke, have been cleared. B