The Kitchen, written and directed by Andrea Berloff, is based on the gritty, violent graphic novel by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. We’ve seen many comic books get adapted into movies, but none like this. Set in the 1970s in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, three Irish mob wives, played by Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Hadish and Elisabeth Moss, decide to take over their husband’s operations when all three husbands are sent to prison.
You many know Andrea Berloff’s previous film, Straight Outta Compton, for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Though The Kitchen may seem a strange follow up to a such a male-centered film, the two films have more in common than you might think. More on this later.
Berloff says she was attracted to The Kitchen graphic novel because, “these were really interesting women, things are not cut and dry. It was a gritty world they were living in.”
She says she didn’t need to adjust the characters too much to make them feel real. “They’re weren’t superheroes, they were complex, authentic women on the page. That was really fresh and inspirational and one of the reasons I wanted to tackle this.”
Obviously, the 1970s were a very different time, especially for women. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“What’s great about period pieces is that they allow us to examine contemporary issues with a harsher magnifying lens. In 1978, yes, women had less opportunities; there was racism and there was poverty and classism, but those things still exist today. By watching a period piece we can perhaps reflect upon our times more than anything.”
Berloff thinks watching women of that era, women like some of our own mothers, perhaps, become empowered by the end of the movie, thrive and have fun, will be an exciting, inspirational experience for the audience.
“I hope people walk out of there thinking, ‘That was a complete blast!’ and want to be like these women. They’re antiheroes but they’re bad-ass.” She hopes it will inspire women to ask themselves, “’What can I take on in the world? What can I conquer in the world?’ Sometimes looking to the past allows you to celebrate that more in the present,” says Berloff.
Elisabeth Moss gives a powerhouse of a performance as the punching bag for her abusive husband. She has the biggest character arc in the film. “I always say about Claire, she experiences every single emotion possible in the course of the film.”
Melissa McCarthy plays the more maternal character Kathy who transforms into a provoked mama bear. Tiffany Haddish as Ruby gives a performance unlike any she’s ever given before.
“What I loved about Tiffany’s performance is that she was able to find the moments of stillness. People are going to be blown away by how amazing Tiffany is in this film!”
Considering both McCarthy and Haddish are comedic powerhouses, I couldn’t help but ask if Berloff was ever tempted to add more comedy to the movie. She answered with a resounding “No. I want these women and their stories to be taken seriously. If I were to let them do funny versions of every scene you’re going laugh and go, ‘Look at these silly girls’ and that was not at all what I wanted. These are really tough, intelligent, strong women and if I let them cut it up every moment, it would have lost the heart of the movie.”
Since I had the time with Berloff, I wanted to ask her how she got the job writing the screenplay for my favorite movie of 2015, Straight Outta Compton.
“I think it was 2011, Ice Cube had gone to New Line and said, ‘I want to make this.’ New Line was hearing takes and pitches from writers. I went in and said, ‘Listen, I think you have a really cool idea here but the movie is not a biopic of the band – that’s not what’s going to get people excited. What’s going to get people excited is to create an event out of this. This a movie about First Amendment rights, police abuse and racism in America. This is a story about these big things.’
She says the themes in Straight Outta Compton were the same in The Kitchen.
“Young men, in this case young women, who are being disrespected, who aren’t being given opportunities, who want something more out of life. What is their authentic voice? I don’t know why that theme continues to appeal to me – people who don’t have a voice, who want to be heard, who want to go out and make something with their life. So that is what I pitched them back in 2011 and the movie came out in 2015.”
I asked Berloff her advice for a screenwriter trying to establish themself. Here’s what she said.
“I just keep telling people to go big. Take big swings, don’t be safe. Go for that brash, bold crazy idea that you think, ‘Oh, no one will ever make this.’ Well they might not but they will know that you have a specific voice and a specific something to say. A writing career is so hard, and it’s so hard to have people note you to death and ruin your script. There is a reason you set out to tell this story in the first place – it is uniquely what is yours and uniquely what is special and you have to make sure your voice is there because otherwise, they can hire a hundred other people to tell the same story. That’s what I’ve tried to work on over the years, just go for the big story point. They can always pull you back. Do something that is specific and challenging and uniquely yours.”
The Kitchen is currently playing in theaters.