Film Review: “The Kitchen” Needs a Thorough Redesign

Film poster: “The Kitchen”

The Kitchen (Andrea Berloff, 2019) 1 out of 4 stars.

Last fall saw the release of Widows, director Steve McQueen’s collaboration with bestselling author Gillian Flynn, in which a group of mobster’s wives find themselves denuded of husbands and forced to come up with large sums of cash to pay off a debt. I had problems with that movie, finding its plotting ludicrous, even while enjoying the fine performances and excellent final heist. Now comes The Kitchen, from first-time director Andrea Berloff (screenwriter of Sleepless and other films, including Straight Outta Compton), based on the eponymous graphic novel by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. Here, we have a group of mobster’s wives who find themselves short of cash after their husbands are sent to prison, forced to find a way to make money. Though the set-ups are similar, the films are cinematically miles apart, The Kitchen raising Widows in my estimation by comparison. In short, this new movie is a mess, in every possible way, its various ingredients thrown haphazardly together to form a dish that is as undercooked as it is overbaked.

Somehow, Berloff has managed to assemble a first-rate ensemble – at least among the central women – casting Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Elisabeth Moss (The Square) in the leads as the three wives. It’s her biggest artistic coup, which she squanders every chance she gets. Forced to speak expositional dialogue that tells the audience exactly what they are thinking in each moment, the actors struggle to rise above the mediocrity of the material, though Moss has fun as an abuse survivor coming into her own as a murderous psychopath; the glint in her eye as she dismembers a victim’s body is truly laugh-inducing (intentionally or not). Did I mention that the film is bloody and violent, as well? It’s set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s – the center of the Irish mafia – after all, with plenty of blood and guts to go around. Erin go bleeahh!

Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy in THE KITCHEN ©Warner Bros.

What else is there to say? Not much. There’s a lot of talk about how no one will take to the women running things, but then they do and it’s fine. But then the husbands come back and it’s not. And people die. Lots of them. To remind us of the time period, Berloff stuffs the soundtrack with the greatest hits of the era (poor Fleetwood Mac, whose music comes up a lot), which does nothing except annoy, since she switches songs so frequently. The men growl and grunt, doing themselves no favors, and the great Margo Martindale (Claudia on FX’s The Americans) is lost in the part of a bitter, foul-mouthed matriarch. Domhnall Gleeson (Goodbye Christopher Robin) as Moss’s trainer in psychopathy, is perhaps the one actor who manages to shine, but even he is brought down by the accumulation of ridiculousness. Stay out of The Kitchen and order takeout, instead.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Associate Editor and film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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