If you walked into the movie The Kitchen not knowing anything about it you might think it is based on a true story.
Starring Melissa McCarthy (Kathy), Tiffany Haddish (Ruby) and Elizabeth Moss (Claire) as newly minted mob wives, The Kitchen is an R-Rated descent into madness in 1978 and 1979 Hell’s Kitchen. For any who are not aware, Hell’s Kitchen is a neighborhood on the West Side of Midtown Manhattan that is traditionally considered to be bordered by 34th Street to the south, 59th Street to the north, Eighth Avenue to the east, and the Hudson River to the west.
In the late 1970s, Hell’s Kitchen was run by the Irish Mafia, and the majority of people who lived there were poor, Irish families. This film takes that plot and turns it on its head. When their husbands, members of the Irish Mafia, are sent to prison by the FBI the three women take business into their own hands, running the rackets and taking out the competition, literally. They shake down local business owners, murder, dismember the men they kill, cheat on their husbands, and act as despicably as they can.
The film gets the feel of late ’70s NYC just right; porn shops on every corner, X-rated movie theaters, trash littering the streets, rats in every alley, graffiti covered subway cars, and the Irish Mafia. The soundtrack is full of Stevie Nicks songs, and the clothes and hairstyles that everyone dons are authentic for that decade.
While Melissa McCarthy, (a two-time Oscar nominated actress), Tiffany Haddish, (someone who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her role in Girl’s Trip), and Elizabeth Moss, (Emmy winner from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale), are all capable actors, the material that they are given to work with is dreadful. And poor Margo Martindale, a gem of a character actress. She plays Tiffany Haddish’s mother-in-law, Helen, and is relegated to spewing obscenities that will make the toes of most women of a certain age curl, and is given zero redeeming qualities.
Andrea Berloff, (who wrote the screenplay for Straight Outta Compton, a great movie), wrote the screenplay for The Kitchen, which is based on a comic book series released in 2015 by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. This is also Berloff’s directorial debut, and it shows, not in a good way. Martin Scorsese she is not.
Poor Elizabeth Moss. She is the only one of the three main characters to get beat up, and not just once, not twice, but three times.
The ending of the film happens so abruptly, it seems like it was copied and pasted on after, perhaps, the original, less satisfying ending tested poorly and required reshoots.
Fear not. McCarthy is Ursula in the 2021 live action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Haddish is young and has her whole career ahead of her. And Elizabeth Moss is at work on five movies, all of which will most likely be better than The Kitchen. It is writer/director Berloff who should probably start thinking that this is most likely her first and last directorial accomplishment for any major movie studio.
The Kitchen Review by Tim Nasson