The Kitchen movie review: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elizabeth Moss' mob drama feels like a gang spoof gone wrong
The Kitchen's simplistic, black-and-white narrative ends up being a feeble attempt at a snazzy female mob film, with the shadow of far better works (The Godfather, anyone?) looming large over it.
Imagine the streets of Brooklyn in the ‘70s, harrowed by mobsters and addicted homeless people, all desperate to survive amidst the palpable grouse and frustration of the youth. This grim picture draws you into the world of Netflix’s latest release The Kitchen, directed by Andrea Berloff.
The film follows the three wives of Irish-American gang members, after the husbands’ shoddy attempt at a liquor-store holdup ends up in a three-year jail sentence. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elizabeth Moss) then transform into badass mob femmes overnight after having faced their respective share of oppression under their obnoxious partners. From here on, unravels a disjointed plot about how the tripartite slowly upend their male predecessors’ position to become the most-feared bunch, hobnobbing with the notorious Italian mafia, and enjoying a Robin Hood status among their people.
An otherwise well-meaning story, The Kitchen miserably fails in its botched-up execution. Even though the concept seems fairly innocuous on paper, Berloff’s treatment of her Femme Fatales seems to germinate from a misplaced sense of feminist emancipation. The three women’s journey into the light is never fully realised, and is instead presented as a series of careless montages containing wads of cash, carefully blow-dried hairdos, chic dresses and overcoats.
Except for few moments of intelligent repartee between the three, The Kitchen feels more like a gang spoof gone wrong.
Haddish’s character is criminally inert throughout the runtime. Her natural pizzazz, which would otherwise have only embellished her Mafioso persona, is completely sidelined and kept under wraps. Moss, on the other hand, gives it a sincere shot. Straddled with the docile character of Claire, a victim of physical (and presumably sexual) abuse, Moss works her character who finds her voice only through the intervention of Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), a shaggy blond Vietnam veteran and mob soldier.
He takes a keen interest in this hurt bird, and helps her come out of her shell through tuitions on dissecting body parts and shooting at prospective threats point-blank. A couple of montages later, Claire is reborn, a la the true-blue '70s style.
McCarthy’s Kathy is way more grounded, aware of her shortcomings as a struggling mother of two, and mindful of the risks that the underworld entails. Yet, Kathy’s leadership is never inspirational or even wacko. McCarthy’s oh-so-adorable real self threatens to ooze out of the character’s more stoic, cynical self. And because of this disparity, Kathy remains half-baked and completely soul-less.
Berloff’s main anchors thus provide little support to her story. On the same strain, the mean streets in The Kitchen look awfully well-curated, almost too perfect for reality, and the editing lacks any continuity and provides only an episodic, staccato insight.
Writers Berloff and Ollie Masters insist on placing their female characters in positions of stereotypical hardships in order to make their breakaway from it even more stark, but this formula fails and how. The “mob” that their families are part of and indebted to are shown to be patriarchal misers who would only deign to save the proverbial widows from their financial misery with a mere pittance. The Godfather’s elan and opulence of an Italian blitzkrieg of a don culture is far from what the Irish-American gang depict. They are clueless, without any aim, and thrive on bringing the women down.
These attempts at making the narrative simplistic and black-and-white mar the intricacies which could have been otherwise introduced through a stellar cast including the likes of McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss.
The Kitchen wavers into shaky territory and stumbles to prove any point. It just ends up being a feeble attempt at a snazzy female mob film, with the shadow of far better works (The Godfather, anyone?) looming large over it.
The Kitchen is streaming on Netflix.
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