“Ruby must deal with the stigma of being a Black woman in the VERY white Irish mob. But like so many topics in The Kitchen, nothing ever comes to fruition.”
Title: The Kitchen (2019)
Director: Andrea Berloff 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Andrea Berloff 👩🏼🇺🇸 based on the comics by Ollie Masters 👨🏼🇬🇧 and Ming Doyle 👩🏻🇺🇸
Reviewed by Joseph Hillyard 👨🏽🇺🇸
Despite all the makings of a great mob movie—strong cast, potent premise, and some solid tunes—The Kitchen is hampered by an uneven script and underwritten characters. Writer and director Andrea Berloff does show potential, with interesting ideas sprinkled throughout the film. For example, commentary on the psychological toll of violence and society’s expectations of women both run beneath the plot. Unfortunately, neither are ever really explored, leaving a talented cast stranded in this convoluted mess of a film.
Women have historically been pushed to the background of mob films, existing solely as wives or girlfriends whose lives revolve around male leads. Consider Diane Keaton’s character in The Godfather trilogy, who acts as a moral compass for her husband, or Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface playing the mistress of one character and wife to another. I don't say this to discredit the quality of those films, nor the actresses’ performances. But the fact remains that female-led mob films are essentially nonexistent.
Based on this dearth, you would expect The Kitchen to slay in this category. But bad screenwriting and a lack of focus prevents what could have been complicated and badass anti-heroes from ever forming.
The Kitchen stars Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Clare (Elisabeth Moss) and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish). Kathy is the granddaughter of an Irish mobster and married to Jimmy (Brian D’Arcy James), in the only healthy romantic relationship among the leads. In contrast, Clare’s husband Rob (Jeremy Bobb) abuses her, while Ruby’s spouse, Kevin (James Badge Dale), cheats on her consistently. When their husbands are arrested for robbing a liquor store, Kathy, Clare and Ruby—desperate for money and with very few options—begin running the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, a lack of chemistry between the actresses undercuts the premise. McCarthy, Moss, and Haddish all deliver fine performances but we never really get a sense of camaraderie or even tension between them. Worse yet, their characters are deeply underdeveloped.
Kathy receives some narrative space, as the film follows her transition from housewife to becoming the leader of the Irish mob. She struggles to maintain a sense of morality the deeper she sinks into corruption, with a character arc that never feels reduced to a shallow empowerment tale. The same cannot be said for Clare and Ruby.
Clare starts out the most broken of the three women, having spent the last few years of her life in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. What could have been a reclamation of Clare's independence instead sees her turning into a sociopath out of nowhere, as she suddenly disposes of bodies and puts out hits on her enemies with ease.
Meanwhile, Ruby feels completely underused. Like Clare, she’s married to a prick. In addition, she must deal with the stigma of being a Black woman in the VERY white Irish mob. All the ingredients could combine for an amazing character. But like so many tangents in The Kitchen, nothing ever truly comes to fruition.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 11% of key cast and crew members were POC.
Berloff handles the topic of race with little care, although thankfully none of the characters lean heavily into stereotypes. While Ruby does sometimes border on the sassy Black woman trope, for the most part she stands on her own, kicking ass and gaining respect on the same level as Kathy and Clare.
Notably, The Kitchen tries (and fails) to tie in references to the Black Power movement of the 1970s. In one scene, Ruby gives her racist mother-in-law a speech about how Black people are moving up in the world and are "gonna be everywhere." But by pushing her mother-in-law down a flight of stairs and killing her, the scene throws away perfectly good subtext and feels tonally dissonant.
Other non-white characters exist in the background, including FBI agents Gary Silvers and Gonzalo Martinez. They’re played by Common, who is Black, and E.J. Bonilla, who is Puerto Rican.
Bonus for Body Positivity: +0.25
Props for casting Melissa McCarthy and giving her a lead role that doesn't call out or make fun of the way her body is perceived by society.
Mediaversity Grade: C- 3.17/5
There is a great movie buried somewhere in here. But a lot of character backstory and plot points seem to have gotten lost in the editing room. The Kitchen begins with thematically rich content that simply goes unexplored, leaving us with a mediocre film that wastes its greatest assets. The concept of a female-driven mob movie is an excellent one, and deserves much more than this.
Save yourself the disappointment and watch Widows (2018) instead. It covers some similar territory but thanks to strong performances and a sharp script, co-written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Widows delivers the humor, nuance, and subtlety that The Kitchen so sorely lacks.