There is nothing more frustrating than a movie that wastes a good premise AND a good cast: Welcome to The Kitchen, the most frustrating movie of 2019 (so far). Adapted from a comic book by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, The Kitchen is the directorial debut of screenwriter Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), and it stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss. That’s a lot of talent right off the top. If even one of these women was served well, The Kitchen would at least be notable for giving one talented actress an against-type role. But The Kitchen doesn’t do well by anyone—except for Domhnall Gleeson, who looks GREAT—so it ends up a complete waste of time. Toward the end, it’s actually infuriating to watch, realizing it is going to so completely waste all its potential.
Set in late 1970s New York, The Kitchen is aiming for a grimy Scorsese vibe, but it just looks so cheap it comes off like a TV pilot that never got picked up. This movie is so painfully under-lit it’s baffling—low lighting does not equal “gritty”. There are a lot of problems with The Kitchen, and squinting at the screen because you can’t see anything is one of the most noticeable issues. Beyond the dull look of the movie, the next most noticeable issue is that the three enormously talented leads don’t actually have much to do. They play a trio of mob wives: Kathy Brennan (McCarthy), Ruby O’Carroll (Haddish), and Claire Walsh (Moss), who band together after their husbands are busted in a robbery and sent to jail. When the mob for whom their husbands worked fails to adequately provide for the women, Kathy decides they’re going to take over the local protection racket. They prove to be so good at it, that they end up taking over the whole Irish mob.
McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss are all trying, there just isn’t much for them to do with their shallow characters. Moss, for instance, plays an abused wife who takes to the violence of mob life like a duck to water. But The Kitchen doesn’t dig into her motivation beyond “it’s great to see Claire getting her own back, huh?” Um, Claire is a psychopath, so, no, it’s not great. It’s fine to have women playing anti-heroes and even outright villains, but The Kitchen does not want to reckon, in any meaningful way, with what it means for these women to give themselves over to the mob life. In a similar character arc, Widows shows Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) becoming empowered through violence, but we get to see her whole development, taking in how learning to handle the responsibility of her assigned role brings her out of her shell. We do not get that with Claire. Her entire arc rests on killing the man who assaulted her, because that is the only way women process trauma, didn’t you know?
The Kitchen also skims over the differing experiences of Kathy and Ruby. They both deal with sexism, but Ruby also must contend with the racism of the closed white society into which she married. There is an inherent friction between Kathy and Ruby, but The Kitchen never meaningfully explores how the compounded discrimination Ruby experiences differs from Kathy’s experience. It’s all presented as one neat package: “These ladies sure are dealing with a lot!” They are, but they are dealing with inherently different things, and Ruby’s motivation is unique to her. Yet The Kitchen never connects that to the conflict between Kathy and Ruby. It’s another missed opportunity to deepen these characters and give these talented women more to do with them.
There are moments in The Kitchen when it seems it might break into a dark comedy, or a Widows-esque thriller, but it stays disappointing and never leaves its mediocre lane. It’s a waste of three talented leads, who deserve so much more than watered-down Scorsese cosplay. We know the kind of focused ferocity Moss can bring to a character, but lacking focus, that ferociousness comes off as unhinged. And McCarthy and Haddish are trying to make a meal out of McNuggets—technically you can do it, but it’s not going to be good. I can’t think of a bigger disappointment this summer than The Kitchen. There is so much wasted potential. Don’t bother with this mess, just watch Widows instead.