1978, Hell’s Kitchen. Three Irish gangsters (James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, and Jeremy Bobb) get arrested following a police sting and are sentenced to three years in prison. Their wives (Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy, and Elisabeth Moss) are effectively cut off from their source of income. Their mob ties start short-shrifting their cash kickback. Kathy Brennan (McCarthy) tries to get work, but she is turned away because she has young children.
The three women decide to take over their husbands’ business, spreading more lucrative support to local business and strong-arming the men that stand in their way. But this presents the first hurdle that The Kitchen does not gracefully clear. For two of the three protagonists, the motivation to take up a life of crime is clear. Kathy wants to provide a future for her children that is ideal and safe. Claire (Moss) is sick of being literally pushed around.
These are cliched motivations. Worse than that, they are motivations that are not drawn out enough to satisfy the emotional beats that the script makes of them. They are routinely introduced in the first act with an almost clinical lack of nuance. This lame motivation would be acceptable if the mob movie plotting that comes out of it was original and compelling. But this Widows by way of The Departed tale of female-led Irish mafia against New York is unfortunately as cliched and predictable as the characters’ goals.
From the eye-rolling cliche of the dialogue (“I’m tired of getting knocked around,” “I’m taking care of myself,” “Something I should have done a long time ago”) to the painfully on-the-nose needle drops (“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Barracuda,” “Carry on My Wayward Son”), The Kitchen deals in the most trite of Scorsese-isms.
At one point, an Italian mob boss played by Bill Camp says: “We don’t want to traffic in stereotypes, do we,” and it feels like director-screenwriter Andrea Berloff is poking fun at the expense of her film. The Kitchen is littered with stereotypical depictions of mob movies: stereotypical goons, stereotypical mafia bosses, and plenty of baseline New York accents. Perhaps these rudimentary depictions of crime and its actors function well in comic book form, but here they reek of outdated movie tropes.
What is present to elevate the material are our three leads, but even this comes off somewhat flat. McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss are three actors who are arguably at the top of their game at this point in their respective careers. Yet they are underserved in this film time and time again. I believe that Haddish comes out on top among the three, as her character is arguably given the most nuance and her performance manages to suss out multiple dimensions in this one-dimensional world that these characters live in.
Moss is given the least to do, but she does have some shining moments. Initial interactions between her and Domhnall Gleeson’s shoot-first-and-ask-questions-never Gabriel are standouts, in particularly one scene involving a dead body in a bathroom.
Beyond these three performances (the argument can be made for Gleeson as a fourth performance that breaks the cliche mold), The Kitchen is as boilerplate and unsurprising as mob movies come. It is a film as uninspired as the generic period-appropriate score that accompanies it—a score which appears to just be two riffs playing on a loop. While there is something to be said for a conventional crime film that hearkens back to Scorsese, there is not much that is exciting or different about The Kitchen.
The Kitchen: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)