The Kitchen has several good elements that aren’t put together in the best manner. Andrea Berloff, who co-wrote Straight Outta Compton, makes her directional debut here. Sadly, this late 1970’s crime thriller feels like it never goes anywhere.
Based on the DC Vertigo comic book miniseries, The Kitchen follows Claire, Kathy, and Ruby, the wives of New York mobsters, as they oversee the operations after their husbands are caught and sent to prison. Written and directed by Berloff, the film stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Common, Myk Watford, and Domhnall Gleeson. The Kitchen’s premise is similar to last year’s critically successful hit, Widows. Both films depict a group of women cleaning up the remains left by their significant others. However, while Widows knew what it wanted to do, The Kitchen struggles to find its footing and purpose.
Berloff did not write a film about three women baking in the kitchen, much to the surprise of no one if you saw the trailers. In the past, Berloff has participated in several moderately successful projects and even received an Oscar nomination for her contributions to 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. Her latest outing is a gritty 1970’s gangster movie set in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. The Kitchen’s screenplay is tense, violent and humorous at times, but this combination doesn’t flow that well on-screen.
Scenes go from being really intense one second to awkward and hysterical, which doesn’t work because it happens so fast. The tone of the film is inconsistent, which is fine in most cases, but The Kitchen isn’t balancing it out properly. The script feels overstuffed at points, as the conflict changes more than it should and the film continues this pattern up until the last few minutes. It becomes difficult to care about anything these women get involved in because not enough time is spent on any of the conflicts.
Regardless of that, the performances from Moss, McCarthy, and Haddish are so well done. Each woman starts out dependent on their husbands because that’s all they knew, but they all find their own independence in the end. McCarthy stars as Kathy, a mother who has issues with self-confidence. Moss stars as Claire, a woman who has suffered enough abuse and decides to get even. Haddish stars as Ruby, a very quiet individual who finds her voice and becomes fearless. With a cast including Haddish and McCarthy, there was no way the performances would be anything less than admirable.
Berloff shouldn’t call it quits as a director, but she should probably use this film to remind herself what not to do next time. As mentioned above, the tone of the film is horribly balanced. Berloff has the potential to do great work behind a camera, and there are a few instances of it here in The Kitchen. However, there are too many scenes and instances that feel out of place compared to what happened prior or mere seconds earlier. For instance, following a near-rape encounter, a laughable scene is then focused on for far too long, and it doesn’t gel well. The way it is shot makes it difficult to understand what direction the narrative is going to go in.
The Kitchen is constantly building towards something that never comes to fruition, and just when it seems like business is about to pick up….the credits appear. A well-acted gangster film that couldn’t seem to find its purpose is ultimately what it feels like, but thankfully, an ensemble trio of well-recognized actresses makes it all worth it. So, while The Kitchen isn’t a complete mess, it could use some cleaning here and there.