Video Virgil: Crash and Cranberry
Here's my recommended double bill for Thanksgiving: Crash, this year's dark film about ethnic collisions in Los Angeles, and What's Cooking (2000), a sunnier film that treats the same topic by following four L.A. families - one African American, one Jewish, one Latino, one Vietnamese - through the ups and downs of Thanksgiving.
Both fillms pull off the difficult trick of fully developing multiple plots and characters in the tight space of two hours. This is much harder to do in a feature than in cable TV, where series of 12 hours or more provide room for novelistic expansion. (Whether or not the results are novelistic, we can debate on a case-by-case basis.) Here, suffice it to say that the editors of Crash and What's Cooking, Hughes Winbourne and Janice Hampton, deserve kudos for fitting everything in without apparent strain.
Now for the critics. Read the reviews, and you will conclude that Crash is a better film than What's Cooking. Why? Because Art (upper-case A) rubs our noses in grim reality, and entertainment (strictly lower-case e) coddles us with feel-good fluff. Well, there is such a thing as feel-good fluff, and for a long time I avoided seeing What's Cooking because I assumed it would coddle me, and being coddled makes me grim.
I was wrong. There is a third category, one not generally acknowledged by the herd of independent critics: the category of delight. Like every city, Los Angeles does not lack for grimness. And while Crash cops out of the tragic endings it builds up to (perhaps because of audience testing?), it certainly convinces us that ethnic and racial friction can lead to tragedy.
But having lived in L.A. for several years, I do not accept the view that grimness is all. Just as the city does not lack for grimness, neither does it lack for delight. And the richly seasoned humor, pathos, and realism of What's Cooking captures that delight in a way that really does feel good. So for that, let us give thanks.