Director: Andrea Berloff
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp
Screenplay: Andrea Berloff
102 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content.
Andrea Berloff has a pretty solid resume for her writing, but The Kitchen is her directorial debut. The film, a 1970s-set Hell’s Kitchen gangster picture, is a perfect showcase for her talents.
When three New York gangsters are sent to prison in the 1970s, their wives must find a way to make ends meet. They’ve all kept relatively out of the family business, and when the family promises to help them financially, they still can’t afford to pay their bills. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy, The Heat, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss, The One I Love, TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) decide to take matters into their own hands and actually provide protection to all the businesses who pay money to the crime family, but their plan creates an internal struggle within the family as the balance of power drastically shifts in Hell’s Kitchen.
I want to start by stating that I’ve not read the comic-book miniseries that the film is based on. I will say that, for a first feature, Berloff jumps a lot of hurdles that could have really been problems in this film. She has three strong actresses leading the film, and each one has a unique take on their situation. Kathy has a loving husband and just wants to survive until she begins to like the power. Ruby has never been loved by mother-in-law and family head Helen (Margo Martindale, August: Osage County, Instant Family) because of her skin color and sees this as an out. Claire has been beaten on a daily basis by her husband and decides that she isn’t going to be a victim when the men all go to jail. Claire develops a bond with the unstable but doting Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Peter Rabbit).
The film has some nice cinematography and the editing keeps everything moving pretty nicely until the final act, which I felt was more stretched out than it needed to be. One of the reasons it’s all the more noticeable is that some of the most surprising story beats in the final 30 minutes are brushed by while some of the more expected plot points are drug out far more than they needed to be.
The only other flaw in the film for me is that certain events play out a little too easily for our main characters. I kept recalling throughout the film that these three wives were never really involved in the family business and yet they took to it so easily that they were able to hold their own against more seasoned gangsters with ease. I would have liked more struggle for them as they make mistakes and learn from them early on. That’s the story that would’ve engaged me more.
The Kitchen is a stylistic pulpy gangster film that sees a pretty standard “rise to power” tale from the point-of-view of characters that don’t normally get to be a part of that type of story. Andrea Berloff keeps a nice mix of tension and comedic relief that kept me guessing, even if the story beats occasionally drifted to tropes. The dialogue is snappy and the performances, especially from McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, are the true strengths here. It’s an imperfect movie, but it’s one I would gladly see again.
-Kyle A. Goethe