“The Kitchen” embellishes itself with the promise of delivering a thoughtful message about gender. But if it fell between the bars of a storm drain like a set of keys, it would be better to let it rot.
The film’s enticing premise focuses on three wives who, after being viciously mistreated by their husbands, rise up to criminal positions that are as powerful as those of the husbands. After their husbands are sent to prison for gang activities, the wives infiltrate the family business and start running the show as head honchos.
After starring in the hysterical “Girls Trip,” Tiffany Haddish plays Ruby O’Carroll, a Black woman being abused by her racist and controlling husband Kevin (James Badge Dale). Haddish’s performance is candid and noisy with a taste of ridiculous. Becoming engrossed in her character is as difficult as trying to refrain from laughing at her poor line deliveries.
Melissa McCarthy continues to stray from her usual comedy roles, which worked for her last year with her critically acclaimed performance in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” In “The Kitchen,” she is a woman named Kathy Brennan who would do anything for her family even if her sexist husband, Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), is too proud to obtain an honest job and let Kathy provide for the family as well. Overall, McCarthy is fine. She is emotional when she needs to be emotional and funny when she needs to be funny — nothing surprising and nothing worth booing.
The one who genuinely shines is Elisabeth Moss, who currently headlines “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu. Her portrayal of Claire Walsh, a woman who has suffered years of physical and sexual abuse from her husband Rob (Jeremy Bobb) is the film’s one crucial takeaway. Her character’s vulnerable and fragile state is made palpable throughout the film; though Moss borders on overacting, she does the job of piecing together Walsh’s sense of humanity.
This setup could lead into several rewarding directions, yet it never ventures beyond its generally ill-conceived goals. The film wants to snake its way through explorations of baron backstabbing culture, racial divisions in a poor city, corruption of local governments, religion and how it all ties back to broken families — but it overloads, causing some narrative indigestion. None of these ideas are thoroughly chewed on — they are sloppily swallowed whole without enough time spent to fully indulge in the juicy flavors each could provide. “The Kitchen” feasts on a whole buffet of motives, resulting in the vigorous urge to vomit.
Even worse, “The Kitchen” can’t seem to choose its ingredients. The tone feels like a mix of oil and milk: about half action, a quarter dark comedy and a quarter drama. Before any moment becomes significant or memorable in the film, it is invaded and interrupted by a nonsensical pandering in these elements, leaving an unflattering bitter taste. These genres could plausibly function well together, but “The Kitchen” is a raisin cookie: You think it’s filled with delectable chocolate chips and you bite into it, only to recoil abruptly with a feeling of disgust and revolt.
The film’s indigestion is largely due to the vapid screenplay. Academy Award-nominated screenwriter for “Straight Outta Compton” Andrea Berloff, directing here, massively disappoints with a script almost empty of any nuance or critical thinking. Set in Hell’s Kitchen, New York in 1978, the film’s beginning features the wives completely recognizing that “there is no place out there” for them. Then it repeatedly goes in circles with this culminating knowledge of why they don’t have a place, never breaking through the surface into a potentially insightful social commentary. Berloff doesn’t build or subtly integrate the film’s notions, but rather plainly tells audiences exactly what it’s trying to pursue — abandoning its intentions in their dry, perishable state.
“The Kitchen” has all the necessary components to cook an appetizing film with the recipe of a powerful cast, writer and concept. But it lacks a capable chef and ends up serving its meals freshly burnt.
Contact Cameron Opartkiettikul at [email protected].