Andrea Berloff ’95 made her directorial debut in The Kitchen with a showing at Cornell Cinema on Nov. 15. The film depicts how three women take over a Hell’s Kitchen mafia after their husbands are arrested in an FBI sting. The concept is beautiful, but the film often leaves much to be desired.
One of the criticisms levied at the overuse of violence, but honestly I find this to be incredibly lazy. It’s a mob movie — what exactly were you expecting? Would you make this criticism if it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola? Did you find Goodfellas to be too violent? Or were you just not used to the fact that it was women committing the violence? This is a point that Berloff dwelled on in her post-screening question section. “If I was going to make a mob movie and not portray them violently, what would the criticism have been then? That it was a puff piece … or that I wasn’t making an authentic movie?” The majority of the violence, at the very least, advances the plot in some way. Additionally, Berloff also highlighted how much of the violence is off camera, and how her use of single gun shots rather than continuous gun fire is a break from what is typical in the industry.
By far the most compelling of the three main characters is Elisabeth Moss’s Claire. Throughout the course of the movie, she experiences just about every human emotion but ultimately succumbs to her new lifestyle as she becomes a killer with absolutely no remorse for her victims. Her death, though, is one of the film’s most shocking moments. Her killer was originally deemed to be not dangerous enough to actually hurt any of the three women because of his age, which looks to be a solid criticism of the infantilization of young men in American society. Regardless, Moss appears to have woken up just in time to have killed her would-be assassin, only for him to survive the wound and shoot her from the ground as she laughs about the killing. The lone gun shot stands out from the rest of the audio in stark contrast to the sound of Claire’s boyfriend unloading his clip on the killer’s body out of distress.
The relationship between Ruby and Kathy is one of the main drivers of the plot. Berloff describes their relationship by saying she doesn’t believe in a protagonist/antagonist relationship: “I don’t necessarily believe in protagonists or antagonists. I don’t believe the world is that black and white, and to pretend that somebody has to be bad and somebody has to be good is reductive to me.” This develops well throughout the course of The Kitchen because it’s never quite clear who the bad guy is or who you’re supposed to root for while you watch. Taking away a major component of character development should have made the movie more difficult to follow, but honestly, it made the film significantly more dynamic. That said, much of their conflict seems forced: They go from being literal partners in crime to seemingly hating each other with no real event that causes this shift.
There are many moments where the three main characters don’t quite seem bought into their roles. The dialogue also comes off as forced, but this is most likely because two comedians are playing against-type and because they didn’t quite have the time to really buy into their roles as the film was shot in just seven weeks.
In her post-screening Q&A, Berloff also spoke on the state of the film industry: “One thing that’s really bugging me in filmmaking right now is that there’s this rash of female driven movies that are all about girl power. Yes, women collaborate and work together, of course, but I’m trying to get us to the next phase of what we have to say about women’s relationships, which is they can be very complicated. You don’t have to be each other’s best friends to realize that there’s strength in numbers and you can still work together even if you’re not necessarily besties.”
All in all, the message of The Kitchen is great, it just feels as though it needed a little more time to be flushed out so it could grow into itself. It’s a concept that hasn’t been explored before, and one that I hope is explored more in the future.
Daniel Moran is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as an assistant arts editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.