Cinematic Releases: The Kitchen (2019) - Reviewed

The Kitchen is the violent story of three women empowering themselves through organized crime. It is dark, with a style paying homage to the gangster movies of the late '70s. Despite two of its stars being known for their comedic work, do not come in expecting a bunch of laughs. This is even more intense than the trailers make it seem. It is also really entertaining. I had a few problems with one of the characterizations, and the plot is fairly predictable. Luckily, the fast pacing, hard-boiled dialogue and good lead performances made it easy to look past its flaws.

The supporting characters are mostly underwritten stereotypes, so the leads have to carry the load. Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss are Kathy, Ruby and Claire, three women married to members of an Irish crime family in 1979 Hell’s Kitchen who decide to take over after their husbands are sent to prison. None of them are action heroes, which brings some realism to the plot.

McCarthy is the loving wife, struggling to take care of her kids. She is good as the conscience of the group, effectively showing a woman fighting through fear to get what she wants. Haddish is the angry wife of the head of the organization, tired of being treated like an outsider. That is by far the least layered role. She has a few really strong moments, but mainly sneers and threatens. It is unfortunate, though she does the best she can with what she was given. Moss is a battered wife who wants to use her husband’s incarceration as motivation to stop letting herself be pushed around. She gets the most dramatic arc and has the opportunity to play a lot of different notes. Due to an overabundance of subplots, some of her development is rushed, yet the character still connects.

The Kitchen leans heavily on its time period and gender issues to make it feel a little different. This is very much a woman’s story in what is usually seen as a man’s world. All three of them have been pigeonholed because of their gender (in Ruby’s case, also because of her race; though that is just brought up for the occasional plot point). Not only are they considered to be incapable of doing more, they are expected to be perfectly happy with what they are allowed to do. At the beginning, they are all defined by their husbands. Once the men are locked up, they take the chance to create their own lives. 

Make no mistake, this is not a message movie. Add in more gratuitous violence and it probably would have fit in as one half of a drive-in double-feature during the period it is set in. Female empowerment is always present, but it is exploited for a reaction as much as it is celebrated. In a certain kind of movie, that could be a serious problem. However, The Kitchen is not focused on making a political statement of any sort. 

The two main things I think about when reviewing a movie are “What is it trying to do?” and “How successful is it at doing that?” The Kitchen may fail at some stuff, but it is trying to be a female-driven gangster movie. It is quite good at that. One of the biggest reasons we go to the movies is to be entertained and I was very entertained. The story is pretty interesting, the characters are smart and it never lets them off the hook by acting like they are good people. It is bad women finally stepping up to the bad men who have mistreated them. I am surprised at how much fun I had watching this.

-Ben Pivoz