Film Review: THE KITCHEN (USA 2019)

The Kitchen Poster

The wives of New York gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands’ rackets after they’re locked up in prison.


Andrea Berloff


Ollie Masters (comic book series), Ming Doyle (comic book series) | 1 more credit »

THE KITCHEN follows the premise of last year’s Steve McQueen’s WIDOWS where three women take control of their lives after their husbands are put away.  One succeeds and the other doesn’t.  In WIDOWS, the husbands are dead gone while in THE KITCHEN the husbands are put away in prison.  In the WIDOWS, the widows take on a  robbery while in THE KITCHEN the abused wives take  on being mobsters, collecting protection money and protecting businesses for their money.

THE KITCHEN is directed by Andrea Berloff who rose to fame with his STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON where he won the Oscar for Best original screenplay.  The trouble with THE KITCHEN is that it is based on a comic book series which means that it should not be taken too seriously, which it does.  Both Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish are dead serious establishing the fact that they can be credible mobsters.  Are both scary?  Would one pay protection money to these two?  Would other mobster heads give in to these two?  Hardly.  This is the prime reason the film fails.  If the script was to that the material more lightly, then the audience would forgive the credibility factor.  Fortunately the Elisabeth Moss character is more concerned with her lover (Domhnall Gleeson) than anything else.

The story is set in the late 70’s in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, and hence the film’s title.  It is not a very inviting title – and Sylvester Stallone had to rename his movie PARADISE ALLEY instead of HELL’s KITCHEN in his first non-ROCKY movie.   The three 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives have mobster husbands are sent to prison by the FBI.  Left with little but a sharp ax to grind, the ladies take the Irish mafia’s matters into their own hands—proving unexpectedly adept at everything from running the rackets to taking out the competition…literally.

THE KITCHEN is clearly a female oriented movie.  From the very start of the movie, the theme is obvious as the song “It’s a man’s world is heard on the soundtrack.  As in Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA and the upcoming AFTER THE WEDDING in which the words :  “We women have to stick together”, the words: “They f*** us up every time..” are uttered.  The male roles in THE KITCHEN are written so that they become second-class citizens to their female counterparts.   These are too obvious to be credible.  The film contains too many scenes where the males are speechless at a loss in front of women.  But if taken lightly, it can turn into good fun.

Berloff’s film plays as if it is based on true events.  This is how serious his film gets.  By comparison, McQueen’s WIDOWS knows when to be serious but mainly knows when it need to be fun.

It is good to see McCarthy venture out of comedy with her more serious roles as in this flea and the recent  CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? and likewise for Tiffany Haddish.  Elisabeth Moss succeeds more comfortably in her role having playing similar roles as in THE SQUARE and THE HANDMAID’S TALE.

Could have been better, THE KITCHEN ends up a missed opportunity.