And What to Watch Instead
Seeing the new lady mob movie ‘The Kitchen’ starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss is like watching Mario Andretti driving a Ford Pinto in the Indy 500. The clunky crime thriller from freshman director Andrea Berloff about three gang wives who take over their jailed husbands’ racket shows that star power can only take a film so far.
THE KITCHEN ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Andrea Berloff
Written by: Andrea Berloff
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elizabeth Moss
Running time: 102min.
The script, also written by Berloff, took extensive liberties with the short-run comic book it’s based on, mostly to its detriment. The movie ham-handedly introduces the three leads in cringey, unsubtle vignettes within the first five minutes: Haddish is the Tough One, McCarthy is Family Mom, and Elizabeth Moss, reprising her role in ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ is the Abused One. When their husbands get busted, the women decide to run the mafia operation to support themselves.
The setting-as-social-commentary was poking me in the chest for most of the movie, and elements were plonked down without bothering to put them together, like an Ikea dresser. Lots of bass-driven jams and street shots reveal the Hell’s Kitchen of the 70’s before a wave of crime legislation: pimps, drug dealers, garbage, and adult stores crowd the streets, with organized crime running unchecked and leather coats literally everywhere. The era’s emerging feminism is artlessly tagged by having a character describe Melissa McCarthy as “all Gloria Steinem and shit.” ‘The Kitchen’ title itself is a transparent double entendre about women’s lives, get it? This movie doesn’t show – it tells. And tells and tells.
The story arc is tight, and its rushed pacing left the characters making illogical behavioral turns. Berloff had 102 minutes to turn Melissa McCarthy into Scarface, Tiffany Haddish into Bonnie Parker, and Elizabeth Moss into O-Ren Ishii – all while telling a sweeping, complex story that would normally take years to unfold. The movie clearly prioritized cramming in plot points over fully fleshing out the womens’ complexities, so we see weird behavioral pivots and awkwardly-placed monologues instead.
Moss’s bloodthirst becomes it own revenge-fantasy theme, but its link to the domestic violence she suffered is never fully explored. McCarthy’s shift from timid housefrau to hit-ordering mafiosa is jarring and improbable, and it’s only her excellent performance that fills in the script holes. And the three husbands, who are supposedly running a fearsome gang, come across more like low-level bunglers. The plot twist at the end, supposed to be a moment of high crackling tension, made me laugh out loud with its absurdity. There is one clever change: Tiffany Haddish’s character Ruby is white in the comic, but scripting her as a black woman reframed her relationship dynamics and broadened the story to address the era’s racial issues.
This film could have been great with another 30 minutes runtime and a better script. But with its Edward-Scissorhands editing, clumsily-developed characters and callow writing, viewers should just stay out of ‘The Kitchen’ and watch a Pam Grier movie instead.