The Kitchen (2019), directed by Andrea Berloff, is an American shoot ‘em up film starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss. Set back in the 1970’s during New York City’s crime wave, three women become leaders of the local Irish mob after their husbands are arrested. Reviving the mob after incompetent rule, they restore it to its former glory of being a protectorate, but will this newfound power also cause their downfall? (BV: 3.0/5.0)
Review by Junior Associate Beatrice Viri
During the 1970’s, Hell’s Kitchen is not the luxurious, touristy eatery spot we know it today, but a center for crime. In The Kitchen (2019), three women are married to members of the Irish mafia, who control the area: Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), married to Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), is a caring mother of two kids; Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) interracially married the mob’s heir Kevin (James Badge Dale), and receives backlash from the mob and her foul mother-in-law Helen (Margo Martindale); and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss), whose husband Rob (Jeremy Bobb) is abusive. One night, their husbands plan a robbery, but are apprehended by FBI agents Silver (Common) and Martinez (EJ Bonilla) and must serve three years in jail.
The three women are told that the mob will take care of them while their husbands are imprisoned, but only receive a meager pittance to cover expenses. The substitute leader, Little Jackie (Myk Watford), is narcissistic and unlikable, so Kathy decides that the ladies should take matters into their own hands. The women “take over” by promising protection and favors to the local shops under the mob’s jurisdiction. As Little Jackie is incompetent, the shopkeepers are unsatisfied, easily agreeing to their proposal. Kathy hires her cousin Duffy (John Sharian) and his friend Burns (Brian Tarantina) as security; the women make a profit, and become beloved in the community for upholding their promises.
Soon, Little Jackie becomes perturbed and beats Duffy and Burns into submission. He also swears to ruin the ladies’ and their newfound success. When trying to ambush an unsuspecting Claire, former hitman and affiliate of the mob Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson) appears to her rescue, and Claire vows to never let a man hurt her again. The death of Little Jackie opens up a whole new world for these women, who can rule with almost no restraint — but with this life of violence and crime, will they be able to retain their humanity?
Truth be told, I feel that shooter films releases are incredibly insensitive during this time of rampant gun violence. The Kitchen (2019)’s release unfortunately coincided with the Times Square gunshot scare and the Walmart shooting in El Paso, not to mention the numerous acts we’ve received only this year. The movie is set in a different time period, but when an entire nation is traumatized by a growing epidemic, gun propaganda is desensitizing and inappropriate. The Kitchen (2019) reflects a time of rampant crime, and it’s meant to be a violent movie, but the near-lack of remorse for such actions is jarring.
Nonetheless, I am a fan of the trend of morally ambiguous women — the show Good Girls and Jodie Comer’s charismatic character, Villanelle, of Killing Eve immediately come to mind. We’ve had a constant stream of multi-faceted men in media over the years, so seeing this phenomenon finally extend to women, allowing for women to be morally grey, is a welcoming change. In The Kitchen (2019), we even have men who are reduced to side characters; historically, women have been pawns used as sex appeal in men’s operations. Having Kathy’s cousins serve as dim-witted brawns, and the husbands as obstacles in the women’s character arcs subvert this persisting trope.
The women all have their motivations for their spirals into crime — Kathy, and her love for her children; Ruby, a woman considered inferior due to her race; Claire, a woman who’s been abused through the years. I do feel that Ruby’s background could have been elaborated on more, but despite The Kitchen (2019)’s subject and inherent shallowness, the leads are likable and charismatic. Claire’s downfall is also particularly tragic; it makes sense narratively, but her past and newfound happiness with Gabriel garner a sense of attachment despite her gruesome flaws.
Hopefully, the Vertigo comic that The Kitchen (2019) is based on is overall more successful, but otherwise The Kitchen (2019) isn’t noteworthy among a plethora of crime shooter films. The movie’s only unique selling point is that women are the perpetrators this time, though that isn’t exactly a good thing. Needless violence isn’t justified just because women are the stars of the show, but at least the production value and retro costumes aren’t half bad. The Kitchen (2019) is a film full of chaos and color — bullets with violence at every turn will at least keep you awake and engaged, if only because of their noise.
© Beatrice Viri (8/19/19) FF2 Media
Photos: The Kitchen (2019)’s promotional poster, Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss as their characters Kathy Brennan, Ruby O’Carroll, and Claire Walsh in The Kitchen (2019)
Photo Credits: New Line Cinema
Does The Kitchen (2019) pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?