The Kitchen Review
'The Kitchen' has a few surprises, but not enough to save it from mediocrity.
Release Date: August 9, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
The wives of New York gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands’ rackets after they’re locked up in prison.
Director: Andrea Berloff
Screenwriters: Andrea Berloff, Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle
Producers: Michael De Luca, Marcus Viscidi
Cast: Melissa McCarthy (Kathy), Tiffany Haddish (Ruby), Elisabeth Moss (Claire), Domhnall Gleeson (Gabriel), Common (Gary Silvers)
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen
Cinematographer: Maryse Alberti
Production Designer: Shane Valentino
Music Score: Bryce Dessner
When people think about movies based on comic books or graphic novels, their minds usually go right to superheroes, or maybe sometimes to horror. But there’s more to graphic novel life than capes and fangs. There are also books (and movies) like The Kitchen.
Set in the Hell’s Kitchen section of 1978 New York, The Kitchen is centered around three women named Kathy (Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters), Ruby (Girl’s Trip’s Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss from Us and High-Rise), whose husbands are notorious gangsters. When the guys get locked up, the women are, at first, at the mercy of whatever money the mobsters want to give them. When that doesn’t make ends meet, the ladies take matters into their own hands and start collecting their own “protection money” from the community, enraging their husband’s mob pals in the process. The gals learn soon enough that money corrupts, and they find themselves at war with other New York City mobsters…and with each other.
The Kitchen is the directorial debut of Andrea Berloff, who earned an Oscar nomination for her screenwriting work on Straight Outta Compton. Berloff based her screenplay on the comic book series The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. It’s essentially a standard gritty gangster movie with the script flipped a bit to have the main players be female. The change is refreshing, and to Berloff’s credit, there’s very little leaning on the “just a girl” angle of the plot. The Kitchen has all of the same twists and turns, and the same betrayals and double-crosses, as any good gangster film. Unfortunately though, for every jaw-dropping surprise, there are two eye-rolling ones.
With a cast that includes Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, one might expect The Kitchen to have a comedic vibe to it, but thankfully, it doesn’t. This is no Married to the Mob. There’s nothing funny about it. It’s actually a very brutal and violent depiction of the seventies New York mob scene. There are no chainsaws or icepicks or anything like that, but there is plenty of bloodshed, and the three women prove time and time again that they are a collective force to be reckoned with.
Elisabeth Moss’ Claire has the best arc. When the ladies decide that they need some muscle in order to accomplish their goals while keeping their hands relatively clean, they recruit a psychopathic military vet named Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson from Ex Machina and Frank) to take care of their messy work. Claire, who was abused by her husband before he was arrested, befriends Gabriel and convinces him to teach her his tricks, transforming her from a timid Church volunteer to a ruthless killer in mere days.
Claire’s arc also, unfortunately, leads to one of the movie’s more annoying elements – a predictably forced love story angle between her and Gabriel. And that’s just one of the tonal inconsistencies in the film. The Kitchen starts off strongly enough, but as it plods along, the plot becomes contrived, as if the writing for the first half was too clever for its own good and the second half is forced to rely on convenience to stick the landing. Again, the eyes roll more than the jaw drops.
It’s safe to file The Kitchen on the same shelf as all of the other mob movies, but it feels like it was ordered off of the children’s menu. It’s sort of like The Departed Lite, with all of the gruesome and disturbing imagery, but without enough narrative ingenuity to back it up.
Score And Soundtrack
From the very first strains of Etta James howling James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in the opening scene, the movie for The Kitchen captures the retro period of the film perfectly. The soundtrack is chocked full of seventies anthems, from the hard rock of Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” and Heart’s “Barracuda” to the tasty grooves of The Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and the Baby Huey version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times.” There’s a subtle female empowerment vibe to some of the songs as well, particularly after every time the ladies get violent and a Fleetwood Mac song like “The Chain” or “Gold Dust Woman” ominously plays out the scene. The film even closes with a new recording of “The Chain” by country girl supergroup The Highwomen. Most of the soundtrack to The Kitchen is made up of chart hits, giving the musical proceedings an AM radio vibe, and it totally fits the grindhouse aesthetic of the film. The soundtrack is the high point of The Kitchen.