by George Wolf
Looking for trouble? You’ll find plenty in The Kitchen. Looking for nuance? Fresh out, suckas.
It’s a 70s crime drama stripped of style and subtext, yet able to squeeze considerable fun out of the exploitation vibe it revels in.
Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) Claire (Elizabeth Moss) and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) are left with dwindling options when their Irish mob husbands are sent to prison for a botched robbery. It’s 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the ladies realize the meager allowance from their hubbies’ crew ain’t gonna cut it.
Time for these sisters to start doing it for themselves!
And if that song was from the 70s, you’d hear it loud and proud alongside all the other strategically placed picks from that groovy decade. It’s not a Scorsese soundtrack strategy, really, but rather one that makes sure we hear the lyric that can most literally comment on what we’re seeing.
Call it a Berloff maneuver.
The Kitchen marks the directing debut of veteran writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), and from the start, her tone is as unapologetic as her main characters.
Their takeover of the Hells Kitchen action is too easy and their character development too broadly drawn. But just as you’re starting to wonder what this much talent (also including Margo Martindale, Domhnall Gleason, James Badge Dale and of course, Common) saw in this material, the sheer audacity of its often clumsily edited approach feels almost right.
Berloff’s script makes it clear that this is less about the shots and more about who calls them, with some surprises in store by act 3 and a committed cast won over by the comic book source material or Berloff’s vision for it. Or probably both.
Moss, as a meek victim pushed around too long, and Gleason, as the smitten psycho who gently schools her in dismembering a body, elevate the film with every scene they share. Haddish delivers the underestimated street smarts with McCarthy – the two time Oscar nominee whose range should no longer be in doubt – bringing an anchor of authenticity.
There’s an allegory here of strong women fed up with fragile masculinity. There’s also a bloody mess of retro schlocky mob noir tropes (patent pending).
I love it when a plan has some awkward missteps but still kinda sorta comes together.