Action Crime

Review: ‘The Kitchen’ is a Subversive Take on a Familiar Genre

August 9, 2019Ferdosa Abdi

We are living in the age of comic book superheroes, but not all heroes wear capes. And in The Kitchen, first-time director Andrea Berloff trades in your iconic caped crusaders for mob wives dressed in tailored trousers, silk blouses and wool coats.

Based on the DC Vertigo graphic novel of the same name, The Kitchen is a fascinating and gripping story that follows three women forced to survive the gangster life. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are the wives of members of the Irish Mob in 1970s Hell's Kitchen, New York. But after their husbands are arrested and sentenced to 3 years in prison, the women learn the hard way how insignificant they are in the eyes of their "family." Tired of being marginalized and belittled for belonging to the wrong gender, they work together to create a space for themselves where they can rise to the top.

The script, also penned by Berloff, is packed with some stellar lines and hard-hitting truths that truly speak to the experiences all women face. Our protagonists are anti-heroes, their motivations are understandable, but their actions are despicable. They are criminals, and yet Berloff creates characters that we can empathize with. They want to survive, be able to feed their families, stay off the streets, depend on themselves, and most importantly, feel safe. McCarthy, Haddish and Moss beautifully showcase the desperate struggle to simply be able to sleep soundly at night, and the great lengths women have to go to to simply walk down the block.

The same tropes, archetypes and clichés can be found in most gangster movies and TV shows, and they are almost always told from the male perspective. Here, we get a glimpse of the other side, and it isn't so clear cut. The women engage in similar practices, but whereas men use their guttural reactions to steer their decisions, the women take a step back to evaluate all their options and proceed with caution. Brute force isn't their best weapon, it's their intellect. While the compelling aspects of the gangster genre are the shoot 'em up elements, the glitz and glam of the filthy rich criminals, and the morbidly funny situations they find themselves in, The Kitchen subverts expectations, while still providing a taste of the elements audiences are familiar with.

The result seriously grasps onto the universally understood struggle of being an underestimated woman, and the drama that derives from that. That said, there is an awful lot of telling rather than showing, and there are some twists and turns that deserve to be further explored. If the stars align, it would be nice to revisit these characters in a sequel. After all, the life of a gangster is never easy, and it isn't over until they're dead.

The Kitchen releases August 9th, 2019 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content. Its runtime is 1 hr. 42 min.

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