This is not a comedy. Ordinarily a movie review would not begin by telling you what the movie is not, but when the theater marquee flashes “Starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish”, most anyone would assume they are in for a 2-hour laugh out loud romp with the promise of some outlandish one-liners to drop at the next party. Instead, the directorial debut from Andrea Berloff is a relatively violent mob movie.
Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are left isolated when their mob-connected husbands are busted by the FBI, and sent to prison. Survival instincts kick in for the previously un-involved ladies, and they quickly realize that a bit of strategy would allow them to not only run the business their husbands left behind, but also build it into something better. Of course the mobsters left behind are none-too-pleased with the women outperforming them, and so we get a good old fashioned ‘brains vs. brawn’ battle.
The setting is the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. The year is 1978, so the Irish community still has a stronghold on the area. This is basically the same time frame and the same streets that serve as the setting for the classic film ‘TAXI DRIVER.’ We see what happens when a woman’s touch is applied to gangster activities: bonds are built, services are rendered, and payments are made. The illusion of power draws the three women in deeper, and the movie has us believe they are good at it. The issue is, as viewers, we never really buy into these three seizing this power. We are just supposed to sit back and accept that Kathy is an expert community organizer, Ruby gets things done behind the scenes, and timid Claire evolves. Actually, Claire’s transformation is the best part of the film. Seeing her discover new talents and her true persona is as exciting for us as it is for her. However, in total, the 3 characters are little more than caricatures of gritty mobsters.
In addition to the three stars, the cast is deep. The three husbands, Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), Kevin (James Badge Dale), and Rob (Jeremy Bobb), all three are criminals and bad husbands who’ve been sent to serve three years in prison for their roles in a robbery. Domhnall Gleeson as Gabriel, resumes his chameleon ways in what could have been a more interesting role as he just literally randomly shows up in a scene without explanation and continues on from there, Common in a very small background role, plays a federal agent Gary Silvers, though he does give us the only plot twist ending of the movie. Annabella Sciorra has a nice turn as the Italian mobster’s Alfonso Coretti’s (Bill Camp) wife Maria, and the great Margo Martindale complete with prop cane and wig, plays by far the best character of this entire film Helen O’Carroll, the only role that completely stands out in of all the respective gangster roles in the film.
The film does a nice job tying in historical elements of the era, including the construction plans for the Javitz Center, where they mention ‘some millionaires son is creating’ i.e., this is none other than Donald Trump. There are more than a few moments of violence, but the shots aren’t nearly as dramatic as we’ve come to expect in mob movies. It’s simply not as gritty as it pretends to be. The pretense of ‘just another day at the office’ after each murder committed by these women seems prevalent here. There are some similarities to some mob movies of past, but if you’re expecting a female version of ‘Goodfellas,’ that’s not happening, though had this been done right, it could have been. I expect it will be a crowd-pleaser for those along for the ride. Just remember – it’s not a comedy.
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Media Review Screening: Thursday, August 8, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.