Film Review: THE KITCHEN (USA 2019)

The Kitchen Poster
Trailer

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.

Director:

Andrea Berloff

Writers:

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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlcyEDZVYkw

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Film Review: THE OATH (USA 2018) ***

The Oath Poster
Trailer

The Oath is a fictional black comedy about American citizens given the supposedly option of signing a loyalty oath to the President.   As far as black comedies go, they do not often generate many laughs, and neither does this one.  THE OATH can be best considered a comic look at America and something that could but hopefully never happen.  Citizens are required to sign before the next Thanksgiving is up.  The oath is hopefully to isolate terrorists in America.  The incentive given to those who sign is a huge tax cut, but it seems that those opposing are being persecuted.

This controversial White House policy turns family member against family member when Chris (Ike Barinholtz), a high-strung progressive news junkie, and his more level headed wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) learn bout it.  Their reaction is disbelief, followed by idealistic refusal.  But as the Thanksgiving deadline to sign approaches, the combination of sparring relatives, and the unexpected arrival of two government agents sends an already tense family gathering completely off the rails.  Chris mentions that this is not the America he knows or the one he wants to grow up with.

Director Barinholtz keeps the film’s budget in check.  Instead of showing an actual riot with cars and buildings set on fire, the above is seen on the television screen.  Most of the action takes place at the dining table with a few exteriors.

The film’s best joke also happens on the television when it is announced (heard) that actor Seth Rogen has disappeared because he was opposed to the oath. 

For a man so geared on Thanksgiving, the film allows the man (Chris) to throw away etiquette and allow him to use his cell phone.  This incident is the catalyst for the big break up at the Thanksgiving dinner. This is a scene well done with tempers flaring and foul language running loose.

Performances-wise, every actor seems to be overdoing their parts.  All this looks normal for the fact that the events unfolding are so over the top.

The film reaches great intensity once the CPU (Citizens Protection Unit) agents invade Chris’s home without a warrant.  Someone in the dinner party had complained that Chris is advising others not to sign the oath, and hence the agents’s sudden intrusion.  Agent Mason (Billy Magnussen) taunts Chris to the point that he pushes him resulting in him taking out his gun, and punches Chris.  As a result Chris’s dad hits Agent Peter (John Cho) with the chimney stoker knocking him out cold.  Mason is tasered and is tied up.  Mason is crazy and continue to threaten Chris while Agent Peter appears the rational one.  Director Marinholtz surprisingly keeps the audience at the edge of their seats during all the action combined with verbal shouting.  The children of the family are never seen during all the commotion, having being conveniently locked in another room or whisked off to another location.

One troubling flaw are the mixed messages sent by Barinholtz’s film.  Should one stand up for ones belief despite opposition from family or should one put family first and personal principles second?   The message is blurred more by the words uttered by Chris’s dad: “One has to do whatever it takes to keep ones family safe.”

When one wonders how all the mayhem and violence will end, Barinholtz gears his film towards an unexpected plot twist.  THE OATH ends up disappointing audiences’ expectations despite some solid compelling set-up drama.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LcVhhno-Uo