It feels as if Melissa McCarthy and I have been here too many times before. Me wanting to believe that her latest film would be the one to give her the role she deserved. And, coming off the back of her amazing performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me? I was confident that she was on her way up. The Kitchen seemed like a great fit. Based on a Vertigo comic book miniseries about housewives taking their husbands’ place in the Irish mob. It’s an adaptation written and directed by Andrea Berloff and starring Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish. This was a film that was making so many promises about celebrating women that I had to believe that it would be perfect. But could it ever live up to our expectations?
The Kitchen takes us back to the gloomy world of the 1970s. In Hell’s Kitchen, three women suddenly find their mobster husbands arrested and in prison. Without a way to make money for themselves, the three women are given small stipends by the rest of the mob. When they discover some businesses have been refusing to pay their protection money, they decide to take matters into their own hands. And, it turns out, they have something of an affinity for crime. They set up on their own and make enemies of their husbands’ friends. As they get more of a taste for power the group look to expanding and taking as much of the city as they can. But, with the release of their husbands moving closer, how will they fit into the family business?
On a basic level, The Kitchen should be a great film. It takes three great actors playing three strong female characters. Melissa McCarthy plays Kathy, a smart housewife who will do anything it takes to protect her kids. Kathy, it turns out, is good at this line of work and knows how to get people to do what she wants. Tiffany Haddish is Ruby, the wife of the ex-mob boss who never felt part of the family. When her husband is sent to prison, she finally has the chance to prove herself. Finally, Elisabeth Moss is Claire, who finds herself free of an abusive husband and gains some much-needed confidence. The confidence to kill anyone who crosses her it seems.
So, it all sounds pretty good until you start to scratch the surface. There isn’t really a lot here and the tone of this film is confusing. Moss is on great form here but, let’s be honest, she’s playing the exact same character she plays in nearly everything. Put Claire in some a red cloak and you’d have The Handmaid’s Tale all over again. So, it’s hard to tell how good this is as performance because it just feels so familiar. But, she’s on a firmer footing than either McCarthy or Haddish. Neither of whom seems to know whether they are playing this for laughs or not. There is a slight sense of tongue-in-cheek in everything the women do and it doesn’t really sit well with the rest of the film. Ruby and Kathy are in a sort of funny crime caper whilst Moss is in her own private dark drama. It doesn’t work.
And, it makes me sad because this is the kind of film that gives female direction a bad name. I know that Andrea Berloff is a fantastic writer but that’s not based on anything she’s done here. The script if full of awful dialogue, the editing is super weird, and the direction does nothing to help. The fight scenes are badly choreographed and it’s all mega cringe. I mean, this is a film giving put-upon women in the spotlight and it opens to the sound of ‘This is a Man’s World’. And it’s completely sincere about that. I can’t. There is no subtlety to this film. Look at the title for christ’s sake. We get it. Women. In the kitchen. It’s liberating. Maybe stop trying so hard and just write decent characters?
We’re told to “show don’t tell” but The Kitchen takes the easy way out. We know that these women are doing things we should be inspired about because we are told so often. Although, if you were to ask me one thing that they did I would be left blank. These women have such forgettable characters that even Berloff seems to forget. They change dramatically depending on what each scene requires even if it is in complete contradiction of an earlier one. Maybe this is all down to studio interference but there’s something not right about this film. It’s boring, confusing, and utterly stupid. Despite the fact that it had so many good things going for it. If we take a food metaphor, The Kitchen is both undercooked, bland, and way past its sell-by date.