THE KITCHEN. Country, USA. Director, Andrea Berloff. Screenwriters, Andrea Berloff, Ollie Masters, and Ming Doyle, based on the comic book by Masters and Doyle. Cast: Melissa Mccarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domnhall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb. Runtime, 102 minutes. Venue, AMC Village 7. Mostly Indies rating, C+
You would think that stepping off her excellent portrayal of greed and miserabilism in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy would continue the trend into more dramatic fare. Her current entry, Andrea Berloff’s flat The Kitchen, places McCarthy in a dramatic limbo, sandwiched between Tiffany Haddish — who actually fares better considering her latest outings have been comedies — and Elisabeth Moss, who does wonders with a part that has next to no lines. McCarthy’ part, we understand, is meant to evoke sympathy, a woman who discovers empowerment and her own place in the world even if that world is the underbelly of society and dominated by men who aren’t ready to let go of that power just yet.
It’s not that McCarthy is bad in the movie; she’s quite good, as usual, and sports truly beautiful 70s hair. It’s the movie itself that doesn’t quite know, it seems, how to fully develop her character, or if she understands the repercussions that come with her choice as her character moves from situation to situation and stakes get higher.
But before I get there, here is the synopsis: three abused wives of mob men who’ve been arrested in Ann FBI sting find themselves without a penny to their name. An opportunity arises to collect some back-owed money, and this soon morphs into greater chances to acquire footing by running their husbands affairs. Things don’t quite bode well with the men in the business, who decide to retaliate, and it’s only time before the husbands themselves get out. In the interim, the women start to acquire power within the settings of the City, going as far as to lay claim to neighborhoods and accomplish serious dealings with a major monster played by Bill Camp. Rifts start to appear between Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Kathy (McCarthy) over the use of money and power. As it turns out, and with good reason, Ruby will turn out to be more power-hungry than she first presented herself. That will pose a problem neither Kathy nor anyone could see coming.
So far, so good: the movie in concept does have a solid ground to stand on. There will be the inevitable comparison to last year’s Widows (itself an equally pulpy, silly story of crosses and double crosses that force the widows of mobsters to stand their own). I think that it’s mainly the presentation itself. For so much story, paring it does to a mere 100 minutes makes it feel rushed and superficial. For the most part we don’t really get to know who these women truly are. There is really no major build up to any showdown so any conflict resolution seems almost cardboard—okay, but nothing more. Other than Elisabeth Moss’ Claire — single handedly the movie’s highlight and the one with the most character development and the one the movie’s plot treats most shabbily — we only experience them as three women transitioning into power and eliminating anything that stands between them and control.
Perhaps that is all the movie wanted to say. Men may have led the path in gangster films, but now it’s the women’s turn. If only it could have made that a bit more memorable.