The crime drama The Kitchen, which is set in the gritty streets of Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, finds three women in hot water after their criminal husbands are arrested. Sound familiar? It’s based on a DC comic series of the same name, but also parallels last year’s tragically underrated Widows, to which The Kitchen pales in comparison.
Claire (Elisabeth Moss), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) are fed up with being both defenseless against and dependent upon their husbands. After marrying young and having no other skills but street smarts and a knack for the mob world, they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands and end up banding together to head the Irish gangs of Hell’s Kitchen. With the FBI on their tails, competing against gangs in other boroughs, and the struggle of getting everyone to cooperate, we should be in for an exciting ride.
And we are, for the most part. The walls are splattered with blood, stacks of money start to pile up, and we get to ogle over the period-appropriate costume and set design as our three leads take on the world. The ever-indomitable Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Men) is the standout of the trio as Claire, who arguably evolves the most over the course of the film as she finds strength and identity after leaving a toxic relationship. The audience audibly sided with her in my viewing, cheering her on through her ups and downs.
McCarthy and Haddish, both comedians, enter the dark world of drama, trading in their well-known lightness for a more serious setting. I didn’t expect them to carry the comedy of The Kitchen on their backs, though the film has its laughs. However, the film’s failure to find an audience may partly be due to the expectation for these two actresses to deliver their tight-packed wit. McCarthy’s Kathy, a mother of two young children, struggles to develop the hardness of her peers due to her love for her husband and Haddish’s Ruby, fed up with her husband’s antics, is rightfully power-hungry and ruthless. Next to Moss, who is known for the intensity of her roles, they hold their own but in the end, it might have been too far of a gap to fill.
Although widely advertised and only released this week, The Kitchen is cooling, receiving considerable critique and unable to bring in substantial box office numbers, even with big-name actors to pull crowds in. However, it shouldn’t be written off or shelved, even if its script needs some work. These female-led films are always picked apart and seemingly never given a chance. I found it to be worth the watch and even fun to witness our characters tackle the crime world, and to watch Moss getting her hands dirty alongside endearing tough guy Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson).
However, the film fails in its last act by killing off its most lovable character Claire, seemingly for shock value. It does nothing to move the story forward as plenty of other people are killed, and surprisingly so. Her death is glazed over; we barely get to process it compared to other drawn-out exchanges and events.
Even Kathy’s point that she feels safe walking the streets as a woman now that she no longer is at the mercy of men would have been more impactful if Claire was kept alive. Following an abusive marriage and having experienced violence throughout her life, she evolved the most over the course of the story, coming into her own and learning how to defend herself. It’s a disservice to her and to the narratives of violence against women, and how we can explore, give voice to, and remedy these issues within film.
The Kitchen lost its punch for me because of her death, and therefore its smaller plot twists presented like huffs of smoke, coming in and fizzling out. The conclusion of the story neither engaged nor satisfied me. It was still worth the watch but simply wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
Do you plan on seeing the film? What do you think of these adaptions and reboots that keep rolling out? Discuss in the comments below!