There are plenty of films that relay as love letters to New York. Similarly, there are a good amount full of loathing towards the city, often targeting certain areas. What is so striking about Andrea Berloff’s The Kitchen, based on the DC Comic set in Hell’s Kitchen, is that it never really takes either of these stances in the slightest. Unable to formulate any solid sense of self image, The Kitchen is a quick, chaotic mess of women’s empowerment, murky 1970s New York, and mob drama.
The film begins with a series of critically heavy-handed exposition — in case you didn’t already have an image of 1970s housewife living, The Kitchen reaffirms beautifully battered, kitchen-dwelling clichès as it introduces the three protagonists. While Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are neglected both physically and emotionally, Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) is the sole member of the trio to have a seemingly-healthy marriage. The three husbands are intercepted by the FBI while robbing a convenience store, and Kathy is the only wife to cry after they are sentenced to three years’ in prison.
The cash flow stops, and none of the three are able to get a job. The mob denies their pleas for more money; the wives begin manipulations to overthrow the original mob leaders. Their rise in the Irish Mob scene feels quick and effortless — there is a blatant lack of plot and any sort of resistance in this area. While there are plenty of fun moments in which Ruby and Kathy handle business or Claire handles dead bodies, there is no coherence in their endeavours. Instead of focusing on a timeline for their crime heist, the film is dedicated to shots of slamming money on tables and women mobsters symbolically swaggering in front of taxi cabs.
And perhaps all of these would lead to something of an image of 1970s New York — of which cinema is in no way deficient — if there was something fresh and invigorating to add, perhaps colouring similar to that of the poster or a soundtrack with tunes that haven’t been overused in the industry. The Hell’s Kitchen we see in The Kitchen is unmemorable, not at all reminiscent of the dangerous masculine nature present in the original comics. This can also be attributed to a lack of strong chemistry between the lead characters — though McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss reap what they can from the characters, any amount of charisma is lost in the lack of connection written into each woman. None are ever able to actually separate from the identity formed around their spouse.
While it is void of any dynamics amidst the trio, individually, the leads bring so much life to the film. Haddish was made to demolish the show-runners of the Irish Mob — in The Kitchen, she finally has the chance to demonstrate her acting prowess outside of being a comedic legend. The other stand-out is Moss, who is given a revenge subplot worthy of its own film. She and her chaotic fling Gabriel (Domnhall Gleeson) flirt as they butcher male assailants, eventually seeking revenge on Claire’s abusive husband. The two play well off one another, balancing romance with gruesome brooding — a match made in heaven.
Saying all of this, Claire’s character is the only with any depth. The women-in-a-man’s-field plot device is not enough to carry this film into what it could be, holding it against the comic’s background and the domineering cast. What could have been a thrilling crime piece featuring a dark portrait of Hell’s Kitchen becomes an unmemorable drama, wasting its lead actresses on stomping around New York instead of any kind of action. It is easy to watch and entertaining, but offers no sense of stylised individuality that one would hope from a film of this nature.
by Fletcher Peters
Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Fletcher is now living in New York studying towards a BA in Cinema Studies. She loves crossword puzzles, low-budget off-off Broadway shows, and when she’s at home, annoying her cats. Her favorite films include Rear Window, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. She’s also a fan of everything Star Wars related. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, and Instagram.