Married into a life of crime, three women living in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City in the late ‘70s find themselves trapped in their incarcerated husband’s shadows. Tired of being weak and dependent, the ladies band together to take control of their situation by trying to take over the mob.
Directed by: Andrea Berloff Written by: Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle, and Andrea Berloff Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, and Common Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content Release date: August 9, 2019 (USA) Run-time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Married into a life with the mob, three women living in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City in the late ‘70s find themselves trapped in their husband’s shadows in Andrea Berloff’s debut film, The Kitchen. Based on a 2014 DC Comics graphic novel by the same name, the film focuses on these three female friends facing the aftermath of their husband’s botched crime and subsequent imprisonment. Their Italian crime family promised to take care of them while their spouses are locked away, but their measly support simply isn’t enough when they’ve got mouths to feed and bills to pay. Tired of being weak and dependent, the ladies band together to take control of their situation by trying to take over the mob.
The Kitchen stars actresses Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as the female trio who work to rise to the top of their crime family by carrying the dead weight of the lazy men who lead it. McCarthy plays Kathy Brennan, a housewife and mother of two, whose seemingly good-natured husband is clearly involved in the wrong crowd. In spite of that, she appears to have a pleasant life at home, but her heavy reliance on her husband puts her in peril once he’s locked away. On the other hand, Haddish and Moss play Ruby and Claire, who are both victimized and disrespected by their husbands, with Claire even being regularly abused. These characteristics help to define the women and their actions as they attempt to upend the male-dominated establishment.
However, despite The Kitchen’s strong set-up, the characters themselves don’t show much depth beyond this, and the film’s performances leave a lot to be desired. McCarthy felt like she was acting in an entirely different movie. I’ve never seen a more passive and unconvincing crime boss. She’s struggling with a balancing act that sees her going between being tough, funny, ruthless, submissive, and sweet. By comparison to the rest of the movie, her whole character feels off-key. Then there’s Haddish who gives the worst acting performance I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m not really a fan of her brand of humor, but I didn’t like her dramatic turn here either. She just delivers snarky lines with attitude and death glares before walking off-camera in practically every shot she’s in. It’s almost funny how cheesy and over-the-top it is. You can’t just go mean-mugging your way through a whole major motion picture and expect to be taken seriously.
On a more positive note, Moss was much more impressive as Claire, who is fed up with being beaten down and bullied, and is determined to learn how to defend herself. She partners up with Domhnall Gleeson’s hitman character Gabriel who teaches her how to kill. Their relationship ends up being perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole movie, and it has something of a Bonnie and Clyde quality to it. I only wish we could have seen it fleshed out a bit more.
For all of its potential, especially in terms of portraying female empowerment, The Kitchen regrettably winds up being a generic, inconsistent, and lethargic affair. I personally love the premise of the film. It’s a bad ass statement to any man who has ever said that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. It sticks up a middle finger to sexism by taking the action to the criminal streets of Hell’s Kitchen where the women rise to power. Unfortunately, despite the kick-ass feminist concept, I found that the film’s attempt at empowerment never really manifests into anything meaningful.
Instead, The Kitchen feels messy and uninspired. There isn’t a single scene in the entire film that I would consider to be good. The story is thin, the suspense is absent, the setting is bland, the tone is confusing, and the characters are mostly uninspired. I hate to even say it, but while watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of last year’s train-wreck of a film, Gotti, starring John Travolta. I think both of these films had a lot of promise, but seriously failed to deliver. As someone who loves a good gangster movie, I feel really disappointed.
There’s ultimately very little I liked about The Kitchen. The movie lacks a pulse, and the stakes never feel significant, not even as the body count piles up. The set design shows no strong sense of place or time period. Most of the settings outside seemed to be looking at nondescript sidewalks that could have been filmed anywhere. With the setting of Hell’s Kitchen, I can’t help but immediately think of The Godfather. Similarly, the use of The Rolling Stones in the trailer evokes thoughts of Scorsese and Goodfellas. Unfortunately, this movie clearly doesn’t even come close to comparing to either of those classics. This movie’s plot is weak, the betrayals are obvious, and the ending is uncomfortably idiotic. Despite it all, however, I find myself still interested in The Kitchen’s graphic novel at least, because I can’t imagine it being this bad.
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