The Kitchen movie cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian d’Arcy James, Margo Martindale
The Kitchen movie director: Andrea Berloff
The Kitchen movie rating: One and a half stars
The idea is promising. It’s 1978, Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and ruling the streets are Irish gangs, bell bottoms, boots and wavy hair. When three Irish hoodlums are caught by police, their ignored wives step into their shoes, and rise swiftly to run the gang.
In McCarthy, Haddish and Moss, writer-director Andrea Berloff has three actors with varied talents, who can make the above look easy. The problem is, it is all too easy, with misguided doses of feminism post-MeToo supposed to divert our attention. Logically too, the film takes many leaps, starting with the felicity with which the three women rise given the low positions their husbands held in the mob ranks — which itself is no surprise given the one job we see them doing and failing at.
The Kitchen also struggles to keep a narrative tone, transitioning from jaunty to dark and back again for no obvious reason. Its three main leads try their best to keep up, but as the film enters more serious territory, bringing in some Jew jewellers and Italian Brooklyn gangs, there is no explanation or pondering over their changing motivations.
We meet up with Kathy (McCarthy), Ruby (Haddish), Claire (Moss), and their respective husbands, in the month of March 1978. Kathy’s is the gentlest of the lot, but wants her to concern herself with only running the household and managing their two children. Ruby’s husband is abusive, with a mother (Martindale in a nice but too short a role) who heaps insults on his wife, particularly for being black. Claire has the hardest time of them all, with her husband freely laying his hand on her.
When the three men get arrested by the FBI and are put away for three years, it is the minimal money and the insults that their ‘gang family’ hands out to the wives that makes Kathy, Ruby and Claire decide that it is time they took matters in their own hands. That is, to start collecting protection money from the neighbourhood, assuring them full support (as opposed to the neglect by the men of the gang), and hiring cheap muscle to do the dirty work. That soon involves a lot of shooting and a lot of blood, but Berloff would have us see all that through the prism of women empowerment, while barely raising questions about the ethics or the morality of what her heroines are doing.
McCarthy is clearly meant to shoulder most of the burden, and it is her Kathy who lays out that feminism message in so many words, more than once. The logical concerns of her father, given that she is the mother of two small children, are brushed away.
Gleeson, in the thankless role of a “psycho” with a thing for Claire, decides that his performance doesn’t require him to stir much. Even when the two of them dismember a body in a bath tub, all he does is hand her a knife saying it is “sharper”.
In the end, the coolest part about The Kitchen may be its title — in its suggestion of a place where sexual politics simmers, where fires can burn longer than hell, and where blood can be shed without any knives.