The Kitchen – Movie Review

70s New York is the backdrop for an exploration of what women can do when free of others.

It’s surprising to me that The Kitchen didn’t make more of an impact when it came out late last year. The movie, adapted from a DC/Vertigo comics series everyone should read, tells the story of three women who have to find a way to make it on their own after their mobster husbands are sent to prison for three years. The criminal organization those husbands were part of promises to take care of them, but fails to come through on that, pushing them to the edge of financial disaster. So they decide the best way to survive is to become crime bosses themselves.

The performances by stars Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Moss are all wonderful, as the three fully inhabit the characters they’re playing. And they flourish under the direction of Andrea Berloff, who builds a world of late-70s New York City that feels lived in and not dirty instead of a mocked-up Hollywood set.

There are three points from the story that particularly caught my attention and require being called out.

Motives Matter

Each of the three women embarks on their criminal endeavor for different reasons, though those reasons undergo some evolution over the course of the story. Ruby (Haddish) wants to finally show the strength her mother tried to instill in her as a child and winds up the coldest, most vicious of the three. Claire (Moss) wants to finally show she can defend herself after years of being abused by her husband. Kathy (McCarthy) wants to help her neighborhood thrive.

While those goals bring them all together at the outset, they also pull them apart as time goes on. Ruby’s ambitions grow as she sees the power she’s accumulating as never being enough. Claire’s mission becomes more and more personal and her actions very specific to carving out a life free of abuse for herself. Kathy’s continued focus on her neighbors and family becomes even more intense, with anything outside that seeming to be a distraction from that.

In fact the movie shows that the motives they’ve adopted impact their ultimate fate.

Toxic Masculinity Is the Problem

The biggest lesson of the story is that the biggest impediment to women succeeding in the world is men.

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Ruby is in a terrible marriage and continues to be held down by her mother in law after her husband goes to jail. Once he’s gone she can be as ambitious as possible and his return presents an immediate threat to her plans and so has to be eliminated.

Claire’s marriage is even worse, and his return reminds her of how weak she once was and refuses to be again. She will no longer be subjected to anyone else’s feelings and takes matters into her own hands when she’s put back in the role of victim.

Kathy’s is the story most exemplary of this problem. Her husband Jimmy is initially shown as loving and supportive, but doesn’t like his wife getting into the business. That makes sense when it seems he’s just worried about her safety. But when he’s released it becomes apparent it’s his own ego he’s most concerned about, taking steps that put the wellbeing of their entire family at risk. He simply can’t handle not being part of the operation, jealous of his now-influential wife and the power she’s claimed.

It’s the elimination of those three and others that mark important rites of passage for the women, showing how committed they are to the life they’ve chosen and the goals they have in mind. All three husbands represent different aspects of the worst parts of masculinity and how fragile it is. The one can’t feel like a man if he’s not sleeping around. The other can’t feel like a man if he’s not beating his wife. The third can’t feel like a man if he’s not the primary breadwinner.

Hope Over Nihilism

While I still haven’t seen Joker, part of that movie’s brand identity was it being a gritty, raw presentation of a fictional New York City in the throes of early-80s urban decay. The message, based on reviews of the film, seems to be that the logical result of such an environment is a lone nihilist who seeks to get the attention denied to him by becoming a theatrical murdering sociopath.

The Kitchen has the same basic setting, but shows that women are more likely to choose an alternate path. Kathy in particular is the polar opposite of the Joker ethos, using her power to bring jobs to friends and family, seeking to protect and support local businesses. She shows that being marginalized by society – as women commonly are – can result in someone seeking to lift everyone up, even if the means chosen are sometimes violent.

If you haven’t seen The Kitchen, find it today and watch a movie whose morality doesn’t have to be endlessly explained and nuanced by the filmmakers but instead shows what women are capable of when they’re given the chance to decide their own fates.

Movies Finally Allowing Women to Take Revenge

It’s long been a staple of movies that men seek revenge when some tragedy befalls them. Think of films like Death Wish, where the killing of the main character’s entire family sends him over the edge into vigilantism. The system is always failing white men, who then have to take matters into their own hands.

That such stories have been so common for so long is at least in part responsible for some of the societal problems we face today. These aggrieved white men tried to be good but were forced to go outside the law by the politically correct socialists who want to rehabilitate people instead of jail them and refuse to shoot someone on sight before they are allowed due process in a judicial system awash in corrupt judges and slimy prosecutors.

You can see how that would, when taken along with everything else, add to someone’s burgeoning victim complex, causing them to see everyone in authority along with anyone who doesn’t look like them and share their anger to be seen as the enemy.

Recently, more female characters have been allowed to take on roles that see them seizing power for themselves, often by exacting some level of revenge on those who have wronged them.

Consider a few examples.

Widows (2018) – Four women come together to pay off the debts left behind when their criminal husbands are killed or disappear, plotting a major heist that will allow them to control their own destiny.

Peppermint (2018) – After her husband and child are killed, a woman returns to take down the organized criminals responsible since the justice system was unwilling or unable to do so years ago.

The Hustle (2019) – Two female con artists work together to take down the men who have wronged them – and others like them – over the years

The Kitchen (2019) – Three women are left on the edge of collapse when their husbands are sent to prison, finding the key to survival involves becoming criminals themselves, seizing more power than their husbands ever dreamed of.

Hustlers (2019) – Tired of having to scramble and compromise, a group of night club dancers set out to turn the tables on the Wall Street bros who have everything while they worry about making enough for food and rent.

On that list you’ll find story elements common to the male-centric movies of both the past and present, as well as the future. So it’s not that anything new is generally being done here, it’s just the women are finally being given some agency in their own lives beyond “suffering wife who encourages her husband to go out there and get the son of a bitch who did this” or “helpless woman who has to enlist the aid of male hero cop who will help her finally find justice.”

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What’s unfortunate is that these movies are finally arriving at a time when non-franchise blockbusters are tanking left and right at the theatrical box office. Of the three that have already finished their release lifecycle, Widows was the most successful with $42 million domestically. The Kitchen performed poorly in its opening weekend and Hustlers’ fate is uncertain due to the financial problems reportedly plaguing Annapurna Pictures.

While there’s a bigger issue of movies that glorify vigilantes and criminals as empowering and justified, that women are finally able to take on these roles themselves is a marked step forward. Let’s hope there are more of them to come, whether they hit theaters, Netflix or other distribution, so that women see they can take charge of themselves and are allowed to feel emotions every bit as deep and sometimes troubling as men have long been free to.

The Kitchen – Marketing Recap

the kitchen poster“The Kitchen” started life as a comics series from the now-defunct Vertigo imprint of DC Entertainment. Written by Ollie Masters with art by Ming Doyle, the story followed a trio of women whose husbands – all leaders in the local crime scene – are in prison. Promises by others to keep them afloat are abandoned, leading all three women to take matters into their own hands and get into the family business themselves.

This week’s big screen adaptation The Kitchen retains that much of that story. Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Moss star as Ruby, Kathy and Claire, respectively. The three are determined to survive Hell’s Kitchen of the 1970s. What surprises each one of them is that not only do they find they’re adept at the kind of violence and intimidation necessary to control their territory, they kind of enjoy it. Specifically, they enjoy the freedom that comes from no longer being dependent on anyone else for their survival and wellbeing.

[Disclosure: DC Entertainment was a client of mine in 2014 when the series launched at Vertigo and I was involved in promotion for it during the eight months it ran. That, and my enjoyment of that series, has absolutely influenced how I’ve viewed the movie’s marketing campaign.]

The Posters

There’s a strong 70s vibe on the first and only poster, released at the end of May. All three women are shown in their own section of the design, which uses vertical color-coded stripes to break them up.

The Trailers

The premise of the story is laid out in the first trailer, showing the problems the Kathy, Claire and Ruby are having in making enough money to keep their families afloat while their husbands are in prison. With all other options off the table and no one stepping up to help, they begin to carve out their own criminal operations. That brings them into conflict with other established gangs and syndicates, but they’re determined to answer to no one and do what everyone else has been unable or unwilling to do.

The second trailer was released in mid-July and starts with the trio of women having already gained a reputation that brings them to the attention of a competing crime boss. It jumps back a bit to show why they have undertaken their own enterprise and why, including how they refuse to go back to how things were. At the end we’re once back to their meeting with the crime boss as they face a pivotal moment that ends on an uncertain note.

Online and Social

As is now standard, there’s almost nothing beyond an assemblage of marketing materials available on the movie’s official website. Nice use of the key art to maintain some brand consistency, but that’s about all that can be said in favor of the site.

Advertising and Publicity

Exhibitors got a taste of the dramatic work by the often-comedic cast when WB showed off footage during its CinemaCon 2019 presentation.

The movie was among those announced by AMC Theaters as part of the first curated under its Artisan Films program to highlight smaller films.

Haddish, McCarthy and Moss all appeared as a group at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June.

Featurettes have come out in the last couple weeks including one exclusive to MovieClips that focused on the history of Hell’s Kitchen in the era depicted. Another that was exclusive to DC included nods to the original comic and talked about how the story depicted three women refusing to be beaten down by circumstance. How Berloff assembled a largely female crew was covered in another.

Some TV advertising was surely done but those spots aren’t available on YouTube and don’t seem to have been shared on social platforms.

Media and Press

While this movie’s release was still a ways out at the time, a THR cover story on Haddish included mention of it as one of the in-demand actor’s upcoming projects. Outside of casting announcements, that constituted one of the first publicity beats for the film.

A first look still was released in late October.

A few months later director Andrea Berloff was profiled in a piece that covered how and why she got involved in the project and how she went about tackling the story.

The release of the second trailer was accompanied by stories about The Highwaywomen, the country supergroup whose cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is featured in that trailer.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” in July to chat about the movie and more. A couple weeks later Moss talked with Kimmel.

The three leads were interviewed together about how they got involved in the project and what attracted them to the story. Similar comments were made by them at the movie’s recent premiere.

Berloff talked about the pressure she was under helming a female-led movie in an industry that gives lip service to expanding the range of stories being told but which puts them under a lot more scrutiny than it does the movies with men in leading roles.


The movie’s comics origins aren’t a major part of the campaign, which is too bad since it’s just these sorts of non-super hero stories that have proven so popular in the larger mainstream entertainment world. Think of how The Walking Dead, Saga and other titles have not only become comics bestsellers but raised the profile of the entire industry, before even getting to adaptations in other media.

What is being sold here is a movie about women doing it for themselves. The three lead characters are turning to desperate measures in the desperate times they face and are making no apologies for it. In fact they are embracing the power they’ve seized and finding it provides the kind of security that relying on their husbands never could.

That message is pervasive, accompanied by visuals that reinforce the vibe of 1970s New York and the crime-ridden environment it was. The work Berloff put into both elements – the female power of the story and the recreation of the period setting of the story – is on display everywhere here, making it a compelling pitch even for those unfamiliar with the original material.

Picking Up the Spare

Warner Bros. released an official video for The Highwomen’s cover of “The Chain” that includes not only footage but dialogue from the movie.

Haddish showed up on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie and more. Common later was interviewed on “The Tonight Show.”

The production team was the focus of this profile looking at how they recreated 70s-era fashion and design.

Lots more interviews with Berloff about how and why she made the movie, including what challenges she faced along the way.

Here Are Five More Recent Vertigo Titles to Adapt After The Kitchen

the kitchen 1News broke last week that “The Kitchen” is being adapted for the big screen by writer Andrea Berloff, who will also direct the movie. Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy are attached to star.

The Kitchen” was a 2015 eight-issue series from DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint from writer Ollie Masters and artist Ming Doyle about three women in the Hell’s Kitchen of 1970 who, with their husbands in prison, find the only way to survive is to take over the criminal enterprises those men previously ran.

The book was part of Vertigo’s substantial “Defy” campaign that kicked off in 2014 (it was announced in 2013) with a wave of new books and a paid ad campaign that sought to push the imprint in bold new directions. It was also very much meant to show there was life in the banner after editor-in-chief Karen Berger, who had essentially launched it back 20 years prior, left.

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