The narrative of women in gangster films is something seldom explored. That’s why director Andrea Berloff wanted to adapt The Kitchen, a 2014 comic by Ollie Masters and Becky Cloonan, into a film because rarely does this genre explore the brutality and survival from the women’s perspective. The women of The Kitchen go through the gauntlet as they tackle organized crime, gentrification, and domestic violence in order to build a network that provides a means of survival. The ladies must work together to make their small syndicate work, while thwarting both cops and other mobsters in the process.
The women of The Kitchen are living in three separate spheres of life. Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy) is married to Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), a loving husband and father caught in a world of petty crimes. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) is tired of her husband Kevin’s (James Badge Dale) controlling ways, and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) can’t seem to leave her abusive spouse Rob (Jeremy Bobb). After a botched robbery, the three men are sent to prison. Thinking their husbands’ crime family will take care of them financially, they are shocked to find they are on their own. With no skills and little education they can’t find work, so they go with what they know to make money, and that’s organized crime. Kathy, Ruby, and Claire form an alliance of convenience to create a new business model where they can get the respect they deserve…by any means necessary.
Berloff read the comic and was inspired to bring this project to life, which wasn’t an easy task. She wanted to carve out a new space for these characters so they stand on their own and don’t necessarily rely on conventional crime, drama, or gangster tropes. Den of Geek spoke with the director about her vision for the story, and how not taking no for an answer helped her tell the story she wanted to tell.
Den of Geek: While writing the script, how did your thoughts craft the world of The Kitchen?
Andrea Berloff: Well, it was a two step process. The writing process was about what type of story I tell, and the directing process was about the look and style of the movie. I read the comic first and I loved it and thought it was one of the most fresh stories I’ve read. I loved the idea of a true classic 1970s gritty gangster story with women at the center of it, but you have to do more than just place them there, you have to give them something to work toward, and they have to face some adversity that will be specific to their gender.
Did you do any research anything specific to the time period that helped move the story along?
Absolutely! I did a ton of research about 1970s New York City and learned that what is now the Javits Center was being built and I thought that would be a great starting point. The construction kicked off a mob war between the Italians and the Irish because they both wanted all the construction jobs.
That’s a unique aspect to the story and certainly connects to your personal vision.
I’m not pretending this is something new. I wasn’t looking to recreate the conventions of the genre, but wanted to adhere to the look of it. I was very clear that I wanted to try to craft my own language and not to copy as much as possible. As soon as the project started rolling, I stopped watching all of those old gangster movies because I didn’t want to take any of that influence.
This cast is stacked. Did you always have Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, and Melissa McCarthy in your mind as the leads?
No. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to make a movie with three white women and I wanted the cast to be somewhat reflective of the diverse world of New York. What I did know is I wanted to create a very interesting, provocative African-American character at the center of this. With that, Tiffany was the first piece of the puzzle. I sat down and had lunch with her and just was completely blown away and I just felt how soulful she was and what depth she had and how intelligent she was. Six to eight weeks later, Melissa came along, and Elisabeth was last.
Earlier you mentioned the second process was the look and style of the film. I could tell by the set design and costumes you put a lot of research into the era. What was your method for working with costuming and set design to nail down the 1970s look for the film?
Not taking no for an answer which was the way to ensure I got everything I needed. I wanted to work with women who could handle a large ensemble of multiple women and make them all look fabulous and make the film come alive. The set design took a lot of work because naturally New York City doesn’t look the same but we still wanted that gritty feel, so we made sure to shoot all over the city and adjust in post. We only spent one week on a soundstage.
When talking about the era of the ’70s, I couldn’t help but notice you addressed gentrification in the film. Can you discuss why visualizing that on screen was important to you.
Gentrification is something that is always lurking around the corner no matter the era. I had to address the underlying issues of racism and classism. The building of the Javits Center created a war for jobs and those in the area were displaced upon the start of construction.
I think when you make a period piece like this, societal issues can be examined a little more bluntly or in a way that shows us what came before and use that to reflect on our current time.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching The Kitchen?
By the end of this movie, the audience will hopefully feel empowered. You may have been disrespected, told no all your life, and other people think you just can’t handle the pressure. All you need is a goal and if you set your mind to it, you can go out and get what you want. Hopefully that isn’t organized crime, but you know what I mean.
The Kitchen is in theaters now.
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