The Kitchen (2019)

It’s big, it’s glitz, it’s starting three people I’ve heard of, and I only found out about it by it jumping up on Amazon Prime: yes, it’s another “as far as I know it’s straight to VoD” roll of the cinematic dice. I don’t normally watch gangster films, as they never catch my eye. So if one does make me interested I feel compelled to give it a go, because it deserves points for trying. Also, I really like the leads but would never have thought of putting them together like this.

The film centers on Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as wives of New York organized crime members. Early doors the husbands get thrown in jail for a crime they absolutely committed, and through a series of happenstances the triumvirate takes on the task of hurting people for money. So straight off the bat to the knees, this is a “sisters doing it for themselves” feminist tale about how gender doesn’t stop you from being a terrible person to get by. So, yes: this is a bit of a novelty film if you want to get technical about it. But that probably says more about the world we live in than any qualities of the film itself.

“We’re going to need bigger glasses…”

It’s a crime story, so it follows the regular beats of people ascending to the top of a heap of dead bodies. Other than sexual politics, it’s something you’ll have seen before and can hum along to. There’s nothing wrong with that, but other than a number of really, really cathartic murders of some truly terrible arseholes, any major originality in the plot is not why you’re going to like this film.

I’m not giving this a funny comment least she nuts me

What drags and holds you in is McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss doing an incredible job of working together and apart to tell both combined and separate stories. They tell a compelling, touching story of three people thrown together by necessity, but there is just enough disunity and individual story to keep things very interesting. You could argue that Haddish gets the bigger role by dint of also having to deal with racist bullshit, and Moss is the junior due to slightly less screen time, but the script is tight enough to help everyone shine.

“Say “you should smile more” once again”

To help them out, they have a fantastic supporting cast. As it’s a gangster flick, people come and go with regular acts of irregular cruelty, but two standouts are Domhnall Gleeson as an actually encouraging and supportive partner and Margo Martindale as an utterly despicable bitch. They are very different roles, and they show the breadth and care put into a lot of the characterization. Whilst racial stereotypes and stereotyping are dealt with, none of the people onscreen feel like caricatures, which is often a failing of other works in the genre.

“…And a further 5 years each for wearing those suits in my courtroom.”

Care is also given to the set, the costumes, and, very importantly, to the music. It looks very 70s New York, with everything being rundown and in stubbornly dull earth tones. The costumes reflect this; they are subdued as per the style era, but people are wearing them to impress as they always do. The tunes add an extra layer to this, and to the plot, by being total bangers that you’ll instantly recognise but never getting away from their job of enhancing the moment. Everything is very 70s, but in a mood-setting rather than nostalgia trip inducing manner

The Patriarchy, gangster edition

Whilst all of this sounds great, and the overall effect is solid Treasure, it’s not to say that the film is without its flaw. As said at the top, the basic plot is relatively derivative and it’s only the gender switch of the protagonists that make it interesting (which, on reflection, says a lot about the sad state of gender roles in the world). There also appears to be more story than they could fit into the final run time, so it occasionally feels rushed or like an explanative scene is missing. Then again, it’s made me want to read the comic or find the director’s cut to get the full thing so make of that what you will. Finally, Moss’s character’s vengeful reaction to long-time domestic violence is eventually punished in an almost perfunctory manner. It’s not done badly, it’s just that the plot arc felt out of place and a forced requirement that didn’t sit as well as the other two’s story arc.

“We’ve come to chew gum and look disappointed in you.”

That aside, it’s a really fun film. It’s not the best of its type, and I assume that aficionados of gangster would probably find it quite tepid with far more flaws than I’ve identified. But the individual moments, the overall themes, and the three core performances are enough to keep you along for the ride.

The Raggedyman

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