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At Long Last, The Kitchen Centers Women in the Mob Movie Narrative

The testosterone-heavy genre is getting a much needed update in Andrea Berloff's new film.

The final trailer for The Kitchen was released today, giving us another look at the 70s set mob crime drama. The film stars Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, and Tiffany Haddish as the wives of Irish mobsters in 1978 who are forced to fend for themselves after their husbands are arrested. The women expect their mob family to take care of them, but when they find themselves ignored they realize that they have to take the family business into their own hands.

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The film, based on the 2014 DC/Vertigo graphic novel by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, offers a bold new narrative for well-worn mob movie genre: namely, the centering of women in the narrative. The gangster movie has been an indelible part of cinema since the 1930s. Classic films like Scarface, The Public Enemy, and Angels With Dirty Faces set the standard for the genre, making stars out of James Cagney, Paul Muni, and Edward G. Robinson.

In the 70s and 80s, directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola elevated the mob movie with films like Goodfellas and The Godfather series, which remain undoubtedly some of the finest films ever made. Scorsese made a name for himself with his crime films, making icons of actors like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and every mob movie or television series since shows evidence of his massive influence on the genre.

But in nearly a century of gangster movies, the role of women has been stubbornly limited. Women in mob movies fall into two tropes: the long-suffering wife and the sexy mistress. That’s it. Sure, there are variations to these characters, and they aren’t all one-dimensional. Lorraine Bracco’s portrayal of Karen in Goodfellas was a brilliant performance, garnering Bracco an Oscar nomination. Casino saw Sharon Stone delivering the performance of her career as hustler turned mafia wife Ginger.

But these roles were never the focus of these films. After all, gangster movies are about, well, gangsters. And traditionally, women didn’t hold those positions of power (although there are plenty of female crime bosses in history worthy of their own biopics). Much like the Western, the gangster genre rarely allows a female-centered narrative.

But this is changing. Last year’s Widows delivered a brilliant and brutal crime drama that centered on four women pulling off a heist. And now The Kitchen is giving us the gritty 70s crime drama driven by a trio of powerhouse actresses. The trailers for the film have referenced the Scorsese model, what with the time period and the music. This final trailer features a terrific cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” by the Highwomen.

One of the key themes of the genre is family, i.e. the family of the mob or mafia that protects their own at all costs. It’s about loyalty and honor (or lack thereof) among thieves, a loyalty that is elevated above their commitment to their flesh and blood family. But who understands or embodies family more than women, than mothers and wives who serve as the backbone of the family unit? In the trailer, McCarthy describes the mob as “a bunch of guys who don’t even remember what family means”, to which Haddish responds “So we remind them”.

Here’s hoping that The Kitchen is not only a success, but that it inspires more women-driven crime films. If there’s a fresh, relevant angle to this tired film genre, then this is it.

The Kitchen hits theaters August 9th.

(via Collider, image: Alison Cohen Rosa/Warner Bros)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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