Director: Andrea Berloff
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Jeremy Bobb, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp and Common
Run time: 1h 42m
With all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Etta James tells us that New York in 1978 is a man’s world as we’re quickly introduced to the three female leads. All are married to gangsters and all are, in their own way, victims. Cathy (McCarthy) is a stay at home mother, Ruby (Haddish) has a racist mother-in-law and her partner is a guy that tells her off for buying the wrong beer and Claire (Moss) is regularly beaten by her obnoxious, bullying husband. When the three men are sent to prison it’s left to the women to fight for their survival as they soon realise that their husband’s employers aren’t going to help them financially. So, they attempt to follow in their fellas’ footsteps, continuing their protection racket whilst building bridges throughout their local community, Hell’s Kitchen.
Before you can say, “sisters are doing it for themselves”, the three have undergone astonishing transformations and are quickly counting the copious amounts of cash that’s rolling in. They tread on the toes of rival gangs in New York’s neighbouring boroughs and are virtually unchallenged in their meteoric rise to the top. When the men are released early from prison, the ladies turn on each other as greed and power go to their heads whilst the men aren’t too happy with being told what to do by women. Remember, this is the late seventies where gender politics, racism and discrimination are common place.
There’s no denying the talent on display as McCarthy, Haddish and Moss all successfully manage to bring something of interest to their thin characters, but their journey is too rushed, convenient and easy for them. Whether it’s simply a weak script or 40 minutes’ worth of scenes were edited out is something for director and writer Andrea Berloff to explain. There isn’t enough time to get to know, or indeed like, anyone you see on screen and there are disjointed and inconsistent messages about family and loyalty throughout. It’s virtually impossible to feel sorry for a character that complains about her husband bringing their children to a meeting with Brooklyn’s most powerful mobster, when she’s already in league with him and her own criminal behaviour is worse than her husband’s ever was. The hypocrisy is unintentionally hilarious.
A funky pop / disco soundtrack beats along to the action, the titles of some of the tunes unnecessarily pointing out what we’re seeing on screen a little too obviously and an original score, composed by Bryce Dessner, features a beautiful piece of music sadly ruined by two psychopaths talking about having a baby together. It isn’t romantic or tender, it’s uncomfortable and ridiculous. Late 1970’s New York is colourfully brought to life by cinematographer Maryse Alberti and costume designer Sarah Edwards and there’s a definite gangster vibe at play, but there are too many flaws along the way.
With an exciting director, terrific cast and an intriguing plot, The Kitchen could’ve made these ladies Queens and been up there with last year’s superb adaptation of Widows. As it turns out, this is less Hell’s Kitchen and more hell, no.
The Kitchen is in UK cinemas now.