Starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elizabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp,
The film opens to the song “It’s a Man’s World,” signaling the theme of DC Comics dramatic “mobster movie” adaptation and its gritty 1978 setting. It would be easy to compare this all-female cast to last years “Widows,” but they are entirely different, with very different goals. McCarthy and Haddish both play down their comic roots, sticking closer to the script instead improvising the signature comedy they are known for. Despite their dedication to these roles, it’s still hard to see anything other than McCarthy falling down steps or Haddish with a grapefruit. Margo Martindale’s (“August Osage County”) prosthetic’s and makeup fit the setting so well that her limited screen time as the Mob Mama leaves you wanting more. Writer turned director Andrea Berloff’s first time out of the gate is noble, but her decisions as a director lack nuance.
It’s the late ’70s where the wife of a mobster in Hell’s Kitchen has two roles, shut up and make babies. However, when three of the most prominent pushers are apprehended and sentenced behind bars, their wives Kathy (McCarthy), Claire (Moss) and outsider Ruby (Haddish) can barely make the rent. Appealing to the mob boss is a waste of time. So, they take matters into their own hands, meeting with every local business that pays the organization for protection. They get results and lots of money. Kathy starts gaining respect and seeing results on the street, while Ruby ensures there are no loose ends. Claire has always been a battered wife, but her new taste of freedom and security leads her down a road of justified vengeance. Just when the wives start to make headway, their husbands return home where some find the idea of taking orders from a woman too much to bear.
“The Kitchen” is certainly a tense and often edgy mob film, yet it’s unsteady hand and allegiance to source material keep it in fantasy territory.
The more Melissa McCarthy flirts with drama, the more respect she earns. “The Kitchen” further highlights how much of her talent has been wasted in the past on brainless, slapstick comedy. Likewise with Haddish, who hasn’t had the chance to make nearly as many stupid comedies as McCarthy, shows a darker side that suits her perfectly. The exploration of the fragility of manhood is “The Kitchen’s” most interesting aspect. It’s too bad the tagline “All Men Must Die” was taken, because the real villain in “The Kitchen” isn’t one particular person, it’s the corruptive ideology that the male should be in charge because he says so. Unfortunately, Berloff’s script isn’t afforded the resources or time to dive into the systemic hypocrisy of men acting out, due to a loss of control, forcing them to stay at home where they once kept their wives.
Shooting and quickly burying every problem that comes along is the films biggest issue. There are a handful of scenes where the three actresses are put into original situations that audiences or fans haven’t seen them in before, and instead of some clever maneuver, gun violence is always shown as the easy answer. “The Kitchen” is certainly a tense and often edgy mob film, yet it’s unsteady hand and allegiance to source material keep it in fantasy territory. Sure it’s fun to see these three fearsome females take over a man’s world and dress like ’70s glamour icons while doing it, but there is a real lack of struggle in the takeover. In the last act, aware of the ease in which we have arrived, the story tries to rebalancing itself with a predictable “shocker,” but it doesn’t work and “The Kitchen” falls apart in the end. It’s better than “Oceans 8” and on par with “Widows” in the realm of satisfaction the viewer can derive from women reshaping their world.
Satisfying for about an hour until the dynamics of The Kitchen begin to fall apart.