In theaters nationwide this weekend is THE KITCHEN, starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss. A crime drama highlighting sexism, racism, and economic stressors in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of late ’70’s NYC, this film will sure to be as polarizing with critics and audiences as the aforementioned are between the elite and disenfranchised.
In the film, mob wives Kathy (McCarthy), Ruby (Haddish) and Claire (Moss) – overlooked, underappreciated and in Claire’s case abused – become an unlikely crime boss trio after their husbands are incarcerated for armed robbery and assault, and the mob refuses to pay enough monthly to even cover their rent. Tired of not being given any opportunity to better their situations, the women do what anyone backed into a corner does – and what they are least expected as women to do – they take it. From stealing clients from the Irish mob that was supposed to support them in their husbands absence, to gaining support of the local unions and forming an alliance with a competing mob, the women emerge in control of the neighborhood and their lives – until problems arise to demonstrate that they aren’t as in control as they believe, including their husbands release from prison.
“The Kitchen” is the directing debut of Andrea Berloff, who wrote this screenplay and also co-wrote the screenplay for the Oscar nominated “Straight Outta Compton,” whose script I believed was pitch perfect, hitting every high and low note needed. So I found it surprising that I couldn’t give equal adulation with this latest release.
My biggest critique, unfortunately, is the film was in a haste to get to the nitty-gritty, forsaking “how” these three came into power and rushing the relationships of these women – who were never friends like their husbands and only became allies out of necessity.
I’ve a read a few critiques comparing “The Kitchen” to the obvious predecessor, the female driven 2018 sleeper “Widows,” which I think is unfair because this film is not an original but adapted from the DC Vertigo comic book series of the same name – which also may account for my previous gripe since some scenes felt more like comic panels rather than fully flushed out and developed.
Another critique I’ve chosen to dismiss is one that states McCarthy and Haddish shouldn’t have been cast due to their comedy talents. In fact, this particular criticism pisses me off, as we’ve seen several actors with comedy backgrounds far surpass expectation in drama – including the late Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Will Smith and Steve Carell. The question becomes is the criticism the same for all actors, or is it being noted due the sex of the actor – a question befitting of the overall theme of the film, playing against type.
What did I think the film nailed? Recreating the setting of the late 1970’s NYC scene/Hell’s Kitchen. The visuals were vividly rich and appropriately dark when needed given the topic, violence and graphic novel adaption. Add to that an impressive wardrobe and soundtrack and the audience is transported back to that time period with ease.
And all three leads were good, Haddish especially going against type to display her range, however Elisabeth Moss is a powerhouse and her performance as the abused Claire, who goes on to become vicious hit person Claire, is one of the remarkable highs. But again, even her transition was rushed and the lesser character development definitely proves missing for each of the leads – although McCarthy’s Kathy was given the lion’s share in this area.
That being said, I was really invested in the movie and did not see the major twist near the end coming. The violence is also on high tilt and adds to the entertainment value of the flick. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the slick performances by Domhnall Gleeson, who plays the uber violent muscle Gabriel, and Bill Camp as Italian mobster Alfonso Coretti who comes to respect the women, especially Kathy and her business savvy.
In sum, with flaws and all, I still think the movie is entertaining and a good summer popcorn flick. Going against the critical tide, I’m rating this one 3 out of 5 on the MMTrometer for satisfaction – just go in knowing you’re getting a montage of panels in the beginning where a tighter story and additional character development should have been.
Until next thought, Thomasena