The Kitchen, 2019.
Written and Directed by Andrea Berloff.
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, E.J. Bonilla, Wayne Duvall, Annabella Sciorra, and Myk Watford.
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.
The mob genre gets a bit of a twist in The Kitchen, the directorial debut of Andrea Berloff that is loosely based on the DC Vertigo comic of the same name. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss, the film sees the trio share some nice chemistry as three mob wives who begin taking over their husband’s operation after they’re sent to jail. However, The Kitchen isn’t quite as strong as it could be even with its cast and impressive production design as the film rushes through some of its story and character development. There aren’t many features on the blu-ray, but what it does contain is some great insight into the workings of the film’s production and relationships between the cast and crew. It’s just unfortunate that it doesn’t translate as well in the film.
There is a fair bit to enjoy with McCarthy, Haddish and Moss as they give good performances and share nice onscreen chemistry with each other. Haddish in particular impresses since she’s largely starred in comedy films, but her dramatic turn as the no-nonsense Ruby stands up and is one of the highlights of the film. McCarthy is good as Kathy, a mob wife and mother who somewhat leads the trio while Moss’ Claire uses their bid to control Hell Kitchen’s Irish mob as a vehicle to empower herself from her abusive husband. While their performances are good, the problem, though, is there isn’t a whole lot of room for their characters to develop. The three women largely stay the same for majority of the film, particularly Ruby and Kathy. It doesn’t take much for the women to adjust to the ruthless mob world as they take charge and they only become marginally more ruthless over the course of the film. Only Moss’ Claire goes through some real development as she gradually becomes more confident in her newfound role and taken under the wing of Domhnall Gleeson’s mob enforcer, even slightly enjoying killing and all the dirty aspects it entails. Kathy and Ruby become more complex later on as Kathy tries balancing her role as a supportive wife and mother with mob leader while Ruby’s ambitions grow, but it takes nearly the full length of runtime to capitalize on them, making it rather too little too late by then.
It doesn’t help that The Kitchen‘s narrative feels rushed. Alongside the character’s journeys, the story doesn’t really stop long enough for things to be taken in. Several scenes end a bit abruptly, moving straight into the next before the full weight of the women’s discussion or an event can be contemplated by the audience. The same can be said for some of the film’s emotional moments, though it does rectify this a touch towards the end with some major emotional beats. Once again, though, the emotion of Claire’s story is always intact as the film takes the time from her earliest moment to last to convey what she’s going through. That said, Andrea Berloff’s direction is nicely done as she captures the three leads’ essence. Berloff and cinematographer Maryse Alberti have a good eye for what to focus on and how to make the film’s impressive production style pop. From the look and feel of New York to the characters fashion, it really does look like the 1970s with a great amount of detail. The one important area Berloff could have improved upon was to allow the story to breathe more and not switch scenes so abruptly.
The blu-ray only contains two features: ‘Running Hell’s Kitchen’ and ‘Taking Over the Neighborhood’, each running about 10 minutes. Both offer a lot of insight into how Berloff and her team re-created 1970s Hell’s Kitchen, from the characters wardrobes to the style of the streets, including the amount of trash on the sidewalks due to the NYC garbage strike – a point that doesn’t even feature that much into the story, but speaks to the level of detail Berloff aimed for. They also discuss the chemistry and fun atmosphere McCarthy, Haddish and Moss shared not just with each other, but with Berloff and the rest of the crew as well with some behind the scenes footage. There is also just one deleted scene featuring Tiffany Haddish and her onscreen husband James Badge Dale, though it’s a quick scene and easy to see why it was cut as it doesn’t really add anything to the film or Ruby’s character.
While The Kitchen does have good performances from McCarthy, Haddish and Moss, the trio is not enough to make it succeed. Much of the story feels rushed which creates a disconnection between the viewer and the emotion it wants you to feel. Berloff is competent with capturing the relationship of the leads and the gritty world of 1970s New York, but could have focused a bit more on the story itself. The features on the blu-ray deliver a lot of nice insight into the making of the film, increasing appreciation for the amount of work put into it, but it is still not quite enough to make The Kitchen truly memorable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★