Words Sarah Kidd
“Fans will be disappointed if expecting a movie that aligns faithfully with the original story”
There are two ways in which Andrea Berloff’s directorial debut The Kitchen can be observed; with an absolute pinch of salt, which leads to an average if rather forgettable viewing experience…or with a slightly more discernible palette, that will likely result in utter frustration. Status quo remains unchanged until the night all three husbands are arrested following a convenience store robbery gone wrong. Sent down for three years, suddenly the wives are left on their own, the mob’s promise to look after them amounting to nothing more than a few dollars that won’t even cover the rent.
The Kitchen is based very loosely on the DC Vertigo comic book series of the same name authored by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, and like so many unsuccessful film adaptations of such material, fans will be disappointed if expecting a movie that aligns faithfully with the original story, Berloff instead attempting to take the film in the direction of female empowerment but clumsily missing the mark.
The year is 1978 and Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are the wives of Irish Mobsters; Kathy’s relationship with her husband and two children appears healthy, genuine love and care being openly displayed within their little family unit. Ruby on the other hand, as an African-American woman whose mother-in-law (exceptionally played by Margo Martindale) just happens to be the matriarch of the mob family, leads a more repressed life but over time has built an armour of resilience that serves her well. Claire’s existence however is the most miserable, her status on par with that of a human boxing bag.
“The fact that they are able to do this so swiftly with hardly a murmur from the mobsters leaving the audience with a touch of whiplash”
Que the premise of sisters doing it for themselves, Kathy soon convincing both Ruby and Claire that they can take over the business of protection and make some good money, the fact that they are able to do this so swiftly with hardly a murmur from the mobsters leaving the audience with a touch of whiplash. All of a sudden the film propels itself along grimy 70’s New York Streets, a killer soundtrack (one of the few highlights of the film, even if some of the song choices are a little contrived) nipping at the heels of the three protagonists as they magically transform into violent killers with outfits to match despite no time or effort being put into their character development to get them to this point.
Berloff, wearing both the hat of director and writer and having treated herself to a weekend binge of gangster movies, attempts to regurgitate the best bits onto the screen, elements of Goodfellas, Scarface, and of course Widows all making themselves felt through the violence, costumes and themes of the film itself. The resulting offering a concoction of far too many elements and twists trying to be rammed into a relatively – when compared to the aforementioned classics – short running time, the clunky edits often leaving viewers confused, and plotlines unfinished.
While it is always interesting and often rewarding to see comedic actors take on a more dramatic role, McCarthy and Haddish fail to ignite, McCarthy’s expressions often contradicting the scene she is in and leaving the audience wondering what instructions Berloff is giving her. Haddish, while absolutely owning the look, soon spirals into a conceited and power-hungry woman that quickly starts to grate. Moss however shines, the introduction of Domhnall Gleeson as Gabriel, a mob enforcer and war vet, as her love interest creating an on-screen chemistry that is both believable and enjoyable to watch, the duo proving that even when dealt a bad hand a good actor can salvage something worth saving.
Ultimately The Kitchen suffers from split personality and while the occasional decent scene offers glimmers of hope, eventually the film peters out leaving the viewer hungry for something with a little more bite.