The worst wives’ club
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.
Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss in The Kitchen.