There are some movies that would have been better off as a mini-series on HBO of FX. Movies like Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines and Lee Daniels’ The Butler are two that come to mind. Two movies that are very good, but have such rich, deep stories and characters that is impossible to flesh all of it into a two or two and a half hour long movie. These stories would have benefited from a mini-series or full series on a premium channel like HBO or FX, a channel that puts money into its shows and isn’t afraid to push boundaries.
The Kitchen is exactly ones of those movies. Based on an eight-part graphic novel series from DC Comics, Andrea Berloff’s directorial debut is one that has a lot of good ideas, characters, stories, themes, and performances. But the film shoves eight graphic novels into one movie, resulting in a film that, while entertaining, felt incomplete and left me wanting more.
Set in 1970’s New York in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are all wives of men who are in the Irish mob. When their husbands get arrested by the F.B.I., the mob family that their husbands were working for turn their back on wives, leaving them hanging financially. The three women decide to team up and start to take matters into their own hands, setting up their own rackets while taking down anyone who stands in their way. But as the money and power grow, word gets out about this trio and they must worry about their business, their family, and their lives.
There is a lot happening in The Kitchen. There are a lot of stories, plot points, characters, twists and turns, and murders throughout the film and it all feels rushed. Andrea Berloff, who earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, is a very good writer, but I expected better from her. Trying to fit eight books into one movie is just not feasible, especially in a movie under two hours. This is a movie that shows these three wives go from being nothing in the mob to becoming kings (or queens) of the city, yet I never felt any of it. I never felt any triumph as the women took over Hell’s Kitchen. I never felt any suspense when the wives were meeting with a rival mob boss. I never felt sadness or shock when a character died. This is just a series of actions and plot points, and while some of those scenes are fun and exciting, a lot of the stories felt incomplete and random and there was no character development at all, which was something Berloff did so well in Straight Outta Compton. Any of our wives could have died or any of their family could have died and I wouldn’t have batted an eye. With such good actresses leading the way, all of whom can sink their teeth into any role, not developing their characters is a true sin and something that could have been done had this story been stretched out over a few episodes.
Speaking of good actresses, McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss are excellent. Though their characters aren’t nearly as developed as they should be, they make the best out of what they are given. Moss is having one hell of a 2019, with awards-level performances in Her Smell and Us, and she adds another great one here. Her character is by far the most interesting, as Claire was an abused woman who turns into a gun-toting sociopath thanks to her new boyfriend Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson, who is great in a wild, eerie performance). McCarthy flashes a quiet intensity and intimidation as the respected leader of the wives. And Haddish does some really impressive work in her first true dramatic role to date, keeping up with two seasoned, diverse actresses in McCarthy and Moss. Hopefully Haddish takes more dramatic roles in the future.
Though The Kitchen offers up three excellent performances from McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, and some exciting sequences, the film just feels incomplete. I was really digging the world Berloff put us in and liked a lot of the characters and stories, yet nothing was developed fully. This is a graphic novel that would be best served as a mini-series or series on HBO, where it could be fleshed out fully and the stories and characters could be developed properly. But until then, The Kitchen is only a mediocre movie.
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