The worst wives’ club

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

There’s not much heat in The Kitchen, but it still man­ages to burn a strong ensem­ble cast.

Set on the West Side of Man­hat­tan in the late 1970s — where Ir­ish im­mi­grants wielded the mus­cle and African-Amer­i­cans wore the bell-bot­toms — the fe­maledriven crime drama tells the story of three mob­sters’ wives who strug­gle to pay the rent after their hus­bands are jailed for a liquor store rob­bery.

The new crime boss, Lit­tle Jackie (Myk Wat­ford), has promised to look after them, but their weekly en­velopes con­tain lit­tle more than spare change.

In des­per­a­tion, the women “go all Glo­ria Steinem” on

him, set­ting up a ri­val pro­tec­tion racket.

A de­voted wife and mother, Kathy Bren­nan (Melissa McCarthy), uses her im­pres­sive or­gan­i­sa­tional skills to win over the Hell’s Kitchen busi­ness own­ers.

Out­sider Ruby O’Car­roll (Tif­fany Had­dish) has the sass and snarl nec­es­sary to drive the op­er­a­tion.

Fem­i­nist reawak­en­ings come in all shapes and sizes.

When Claire Walsh (Elis­a­beth Moss), who has been abused for her en­tire mar­ried life, fi­nally snaps, she gets in touch with her in­ner psy­chopath (there are shades, here, of Moss’s much more af­fect­ing per­for­mance as June Os­borne in The Hand­maid’s Tale). Not only does this vic­tim-turned-hit woman have no com­punc­tion about killing another hu­man be­ing, she is fas­ci­nated by the en­su­ing process of dis­mem­ber­ing and dis­pos­ing of the corpse (painstak­ingly ex­plained to her by Domhn­hall Glee­son’s lovestruck as­sas­sin).

Walsh’s new-found tal­ents come in es­pe­cially handy when the men­folk get an early re­lease from prison.

Adding a wild­card to the pro­ceed­ings is an Ital­ian crime boss (Bill Camp) from Brook­lyn who is so im­pressed by the way in which the women have han­dled them­selves, he sug­gests a lu­cra­tive con­struc­tion part­ner­ship that will ben­e­fit both com­mu­ni­ties. A full-on gang war en­sues. As fam­ily mem­ber be­trays fam­ily mem­ber, and the death toll mounts, the whole op­er­a­tion threat­ens to un­ravel.

All of which might have pro­vided rich ma­te­rial for a modern, fem­i­nist re­work­ing of clas­sic genre tropes, in the tra­di­tion of Steve McQueen’s ground­break­ing heist movie Wid­ows. But first-time di­rec­tor An­drea Berloff’s tonedeaf adap­ta­tion of the Ver­tigo comic book se­ries of the same name falls ex­traor­di­nar­ily flat.

Noth­ing about these char­ac­ters, their re­la­tion­ships with one another, or the world they in­habit feels au­then­tic.

The film’s mes­sage is sim­i­larly forced.

To­wards the end of The Kitchen, Bren­nan tells her fa­ther that, after a life­time spent pleas­ing other peo­ple, she fi­nally feels safe.

By this point, the vast ma­jor­ity of the new mob boss’s cronies have met with a vi­o­lent end.

No mat­ter which way you spin it, her sense of fe­male em­pow­er­ment is false.

NOW SCREEN­ING

Tif­fany Had­dish, Melissa McCarthy and Elis­a­beth Moss in The Kitchen.

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