Movie Guru: Despite great performances from Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss, ‘The Kitchen’ falls flat
Editor’s note: This film is not showing at the Riverwalk of Edwards, CineBistro in Vail or Capitol Theater in Eagle.
Even the best acting can only do so much.
That’s the problem with “The Kitchen.” The film has excellent performances from its leading ladies, but forgets to back them up. Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss are fantastic as women who take over New York’s Irish mob in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, an uneven script that focuses on the wrong things fails to give the women the foundation they need to create something great. The acting ensures the resulting movie is still watchable, but it could have been so much more.
The story, an adaptation of a comic book series, starts with the arrest of three members of New York’s Irish mob in the late 1970s. When the men go to jail, power in the mob shifts and threatens to leave the three women without any money to support themselves. To make sure they’re taken care of, they start taking over collecting payouts from local businesses and offering better protection than the mobsters currently in place. As tensions rise and war breaks out, the three women learn exactly what they’re willing to do to survive.
The leading ladies are the biggest reason to watch the film. McCarthy delivers a nuanced performance as a loving mother who’s more suited to the mob life than her husband is. She clings to certain illusions, but has an inner grit and desire for control that makes her transition to harsher moments entirely believable. Moss brings a fierce, slightly feral quality to a perpetually abused woman, reclaiming her own power in a metaphor that’s no less effective for being obvious. Haddish, who has mostly worked in comedy before this, proves she’s got the teeth to handle much more serious roles. She can be scary when she wants to be, which is exactly what this movie needs.
The script, however, doesn’t do them justice. The movie spends too long on their prologues as trapped wives, leaning heavily on clichés we’ve all seen before. What it doesn’t spend enough early time on is the relationships between the three women, or the subtler aspects of their motivations. The three leads try to bring those nuances to their characters, but the script doesn’t give them the room they need to truly explore.
Once that happens, the rest of the movie skips forward in fits and starts like a junker car trying to get somewhere. Though screenwriter and director Andrea Berloff alters the fate of the three women so that the ending is more interesting than the comics, she skips the most exciting parts of their stories. The bits we do see mean less because we don’t know how they got there.
It also doesn’t do enough with key supporting characters. Domhnall Gleason is great as Gabriel, a mob assassin who helps the women rise to power, but the movie never follows through on his character’s supposed mental instability. A key part of the plot also relies on the fact that Brian D’Arcy James is supposedly a loving husband to McCarthy’s Kathy, but we don’t see enough of it to care. The movie never lets us get invested enough in the character for him to matter.
In the end, it’s worth watching just for McCarthy, Haddish and Moss. But it could have been so much more.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.
Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content
Screenplay by Andrea Berloff
Based on the comic book series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle
Directed by Andrea Berloff
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, Domhnall Gleeson, Tiffany Haddish, Common, James Badge Dale, Margo Martindale, Brian d’Arcy James and more
Grade: Two stars