Friday 22 November 2019

The Kitchen ★★☆☆☆

After years of gangster and crime films being totally ruled over by men, recent times have dictated that women get a fair shot now too with female-led ensemble films like Widows, Hustlers, the similarly titled The Hustle and Ocean’s Eight (to name a but a few). But whilst this was refreshing and, well, great to begin with, like anything, it is now becoming an overly saturated market. Now that all the studios are having a go, the subgenre is becoming incredibly crowded and it takes a lot for a film of this premise to stand out. Unfortunately, Andrea Berloff’s The Kitchen fails.

Based on the Vertigo comic book series from DC Entertainment, The Kitchen stars Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss as three 1978 Hell's Kitchen housewives whose mobster husbands are sent to prison by the FBI. Left with little but a sharp axe to grind, the ladies take the Irish mafia's matters into their own hands - proving unexpectedly adept at everything from running the rackets to taking out the competition...literally. Despite three immensely talented leads at the forefront of this Widows wannabe, The Kitchen is overly jumbled, convoluted and rushed – resulting in one hell of a disappointment and a frustrating waste of some real acting chops from the leads.

Firstly, The Kitchen is entirely too heavy-handed with its themes of girl power. Now I do not disagree at all with that premise – girl power FTW, obviously. But while films like Widows and Hustlers have been subtle about it – ie. they haven’t felt the need to remind the audience in every single scene that they are women – The Kitchen, unfortunately, puts its premise first and makes the whole thing feel forced. Film critic Angelica Jade Bastién noted in her review for New York Magazine that she ‘half-expected every scene to end with a freeze-frame high five or the women yelling girl power’, and that is an issue.

But putting that to one side, everything else about the film is a bloody mess too. The characters are thinly written and totally undeveloped, resulting in the audience not caring about their exploits and certainly not feeling any concern for them in moments of tension. Jumbled storytelling and tonal inconsistency mean the film swings wildly between genres and any sort of narrative logic, while horrifically bad editing does not help at all. It feels almost like Andrea Berloff shot the film once as a comedy, once as a drama, once as a thriller (etc.) and then aggressively cut them all together in the editing suite like a cinematic Frankenstein’s monster. The film is just absolutely all over the place and it makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

Nothing at all about the film feels authentic – we don’t feel the friendship or camaraderie between the women, and we certainly don’t buy their criminal ability. It just all feels so disconnected and poorly written that it is impossible to get behind the characters or be even remotely drawn into the film’s world – and it’s a shame.

The Kitchen is one of 2019’s biggest disappointments. With such a stellar cast and a gritty 1970s setting, this could’ve been a dark and thrilling Scorsese-Esque crime romp. Instead, it feels more like an amateur TV movie that you’d find on some obscure TV channel at 1am. There’s a great film in here somewhere – but unfortunately, it’s buried far too deep for anyone to ever find. Still, McCarthy, Moss and Haddish make any film watchable. 

Sam Love

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