Coming to theatres this Friday from writer/director Andrea Berloff, DC Vertigo and Warner Bros. is a story of three women who know what it’s like to be left in THE KITCHEN.
It is the 1970s in New York in a neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen where Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy) lives with her criminal husband Jimmy (Bryan d’Arcy James). Friend Claire Walsh (Elizabeth Moss) lives with her abusive husband Rob (Jeremy Bobb) and Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) lives with her degrading husband Kevin (James Dale) and equally degrading mother-in-law Helen (Margo Martindale).
All three husbands work for Little Jackie (Myk Watford) who is the muscle in Hell’s Kitchen but find themselves popped by FBI agents Gary Silvers (Common) and Gonzalo Martinez (E.J. Bonilla). Now serving a two year sentence, Little Jackie tells the three women left behind to not worry; they would be taken care of in their husband’s absence. Well, that isn’t exactly the case when the envelopes arrive with practically nothing in them, at least not enough to buy food and pay the rent.
Kathy and Ruby go to talk with Little Jackie only to discover that he is full of excuses and hostility but what they do discover is that people aren’t paying him. The women want to know why only to discover that no one can count on him. That’s when they get the bright idea to offer their services of protection. The surprise is that the businesses would rather pay the women! Thinking they have a bit of muscle, it becomes clear that there is going to be a skirmish for power…enter Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), a Vietnam vet with a certain set of skills and an eye for Claire.
As the business grows, it captures the attention of Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp) who would rather work with the women than whack them for being so bold in their dealings. Now their empire begins to expand but with expansion comes the cracks in the three women’s friendship. Especially when they discover that their husbands have all had their sentences commuted and they will be home in months rather than years. Kathy doesn’t see a problem but Ruby and Claire both know that their husbands aren’t about to sit still for the business they’ve created as Helen makes perfectly clear to Ruby.
Now decisions aren’t being discussed, fear is beginning to set in and a paranoia that puts all the women in jeopardy but that’s what happens when you take on something as big as THE KITCHEN.
McCarthy as Kathy starts out as a very sweet woman who just wants to be a good wife and mother. When hubby is sent off to the big house she realizes that its time to get things right for her kids. Her parents might not be too happy about it all but Kathy is determined to make it work. McCarthy gives her character heart until it’s time to leave heart out of it. She begins to find her place and isn’t about to let anyone, not even her friendships, get in the way. Yes, I love McCarthy in comedy but lets be real here, she does a bang up job (pun intended) when it comes to twists, turns and backbone.
Moss as Claire is in an abusive relationship that becomes her world. She only knows what Rob has dished out and can’t see a life past that, until she gets with Kathy and Ruby and discovers there is more to her than she dared imagine. Things that might not be great for the other women to experience, she’s all about it without batting an eye. It is easy to believe Moss in the role of a strong woman and anyone who has seen THE HANDMAID’S TALE on Hulu can attest to her ability to smile when needed and get a point across when absolutely necessary. She is a little scary in this role and I loved it. Gleeson as Gabriel is perfection in this role as a man who clearly has lost his way yet knows he has a trade he can offer the trio. It doesn’t hurt that his relationship with Claire is nothing short of beautiful in a very twisted way.
Haddish as Ruby not only has to deal with the insults of her husband but the rantings of a mother-in-law who makes it perfectly clear that she will always, always side with her son (even if he is so wrong). Once she feels the power that what they are doing brings, she realizes that there is no turning back – not that she would want to. She gets bolder in the way she deals with people and it starts to become noticeable to Kathy and Claire. Common as FBI Silvers makes sure to capture the husband and isn’t happy when he learns that they are getting out early. He, along with partner Martinez, are now watching the women to see what is going on.
Camp as Coretti hides his criminal activities behind the doors of his piano store which is a good cover if you ask me. He plays it smart when he realizes that the bet way to expand his business is to work with the women. There is a scene in which things could have gone horribly wrong for Kathy yet it is Coretti who shows, if you will, loyalty. Watford as Little Jackie is just the worst which means he did a really good job in making sure I didn’t like him. That’s talent right there!
Other cast include Manny Urena as Guy, John Sharian as Cousin Duffy, Rob Yang as Jeffrey, Tina Benko as Donna, Joseph Russo as Tony, Angus O’Brien as Mark, Matt Helm as Colin, Tom Stephens as Father Monoghan and Brandon Uranowitz as Schmuli Chudakoff.
THE KITCHEN is based on the comic book series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. What makes the film initially work is taking the 70s era and putting it up on the screen. Nothing says ‘I wanna see this!’ more to me than a 70s film that goes for the style, cars and music and everything else I love about the 1970s. No need to ask my age because it’s pretty clear that if I loved the 70s then I lived in the 70s.
McCarthy, Moss, Haddish, and Domhnall bring the story its depth and brutal factor that one would expect of Hell’s Kitchen at that time. Businesses paying for muscle, everyone trying to survive by the seat of their pants and always someone trying to take is the messy theme of the film and the intensity comes from never knowing who to trust.
That all being said, I do have a serious problem with the ending and I was thrilled to discover that I wasn’t the only one. The last fifteen minutes was unsatisfying and had people saying out loud, ‘are you serious? that’s how it ends?’ So let’s just say that the film was going somewhere and it seemed as if writer/director Berloff just didn’t know how to cut it off satisfactorily.
I have this little noise I make when I feel like I’ve been cinematically jilted and trust when I say I made that sound the whole drive home. Okay, once I got past it I relished in the first hour of the film and thought I wish we had seen more of Claire and Gabriel because those two are a pair that would be worthy of more of my time. The Bonnie and Clyde of the 70s except, well, sweeter if they could be called that considering their chosen profession.
In the end – it’s time for these women to show what they’ve got!