Adam Chambers, Amber Stevens, bad films, Baron Vaughn, Bryan Greenberg, Catherine Reitman, cinema, comedies, Dreama Walker, film reviews, films, friends, independent film, indie comedies, Ishai Setton, Jim Beggarly, Laura Prepon, Matt Bush, Movies, one-location, Pepper Binkley, Revenge of the Nerds, Tate Ellington, terrible films, The Kitchen
By their very nature, films involving only one location can be problematic. On the one hand, restricting a film shoot to one location is a pretty terrific way to save shooting time and, therefore, money: you can never have too much extra time (or spare cash) on an independent film shoot. On the other hand, however, if you’re only going to be utilizing one location, it had better be a pretty interesting one. Hitchcock was pretty great at this (among many other things): he set Lifeboat (1944) in a claustrophobic dinghy and Rope (1948) in a living room, with the results speaking for themselves. Buried (2010) took place solely in a coffin, managing to be both highly claustrophobic and genuinely tense, even if we got stuck with Ryan Reynolds for an entire film. When done right, a one-location film can be a thing of beauty, a nearly perfect synthesis between the stage and the screen. Ishai Setton’s The Kitchen makes the masterful, bold move of setting an entire film in what appears to be a crew/cast member’s house, with most action taking place in the titular kitchen. When you’re setting an entire film in a kitchen, it better be one absolutely fascinating, space-age kitchen. This one is just a kitchen, unfortunately, and a pretty bland one, at that.
For Jennifer (Laura Prepon), this hasn’t been a particularly great day: she’s just found out that her boyfriend, Paul (Bryan Greenberg), cheated on her (with one of her own friends, no less), she’s turning thirty and her obnoxious “friend,” Stan (Matt Bush), is going to throw her a big birthday bash, whether she wants it or not. She doesn’t, of course, but no one listens to her. This includes her cynical sister, Penny (Dreama Walker), ditzy best friend, Pam (Catherine Reitman) and any of the anonymous “friends” who filter into and out of her house that evening. Jennifer just wants to be left alone but everyone thinks they know what’s best for her. When one of Jennifer’s “friends,” Kim (Pepper Binkley), reveals that she was the one who slept with Paul, things get really heated. When Paul actually shows up at the party, however, things are going to get…well…slightly more heated, I guess. Revelations abound, secret crushes are revealed, “nice guys” act like assholes, assholes get blasted with fire extinguishers, someone misspells Jennifer’s name on the cake (…the horror…the…horror…) and one dumbass thinks he got someone pregnant by kissing them (not even in this wonderland of inanity, Charlie Brown). This all plays out against a “wild” backdrop of twenty/thirty-year-olds standing around in someone’s house, drinking out of red cups and listening to music.
Right off the bat, The Kitchen has the feel, atmosphere and production quality of a particularly low-quality student film. The action all takes place in one exceptionally bland location (whoever had a free house to shoot in); the actors, with the exception of Laura Prepon, seem decidedly amateurish (whoever was available to help); the script is trite and tone-deaf (whoever was available to write); and there’s no craft to any of the camera shots or cinematography (whoever was available to shoot). There’s no point in the film where it ever transcends those limitations: I kept waiting for the movie to lose its “student film” quality and it never did.
Aside from looking amateurish, The Kitchen features some of the most unpleasant, obnoxious and entitled characters to clog up an indie comedy in some time. Prepon’s Jennifer makes out the best, although her performance always comes across as slightly off and fake. Compared to many of her castmastes, however, Prepon is exceptional. Coming in a close second would have to be Dreama Walker’s sarcastic but (relatively) grounded take on Penny. When Prepon and Walker can rise above the terrible script (which doesn’t happen often), there’s a genuine sense of honesty to their characters that actually resembles real people. There are at least two (but probably not more) scenes where the sisters just sit and talk: these are the most subtle, powerful moments in the film, which makes them the equivalent of a poo-smeared TV in a monkey-cage showing scenes from On Golden Pond (1981).
Amber Steven’s shrill, obnoxious take on Amanda helps makes her one of the most horribly entitled, awful characters to march across a screen in some time. The scene where she lets Paul “sweet-talk” her into getting finger-banged, through an open window, in the middle of a party, is just about as low as you think it could possibly get until you get to her self-righteous temper tantrum about how Jennifer and Penny think they own the world. Oh, do you possibly mean because…gee, I dunno…you were getting fingered by the birthday girl’s boyfriend at her own party? So much of the justifications and characterizations in The Kitchen marked it as a pure fantasy but this bit of idiocy was straight out of some lame Revenge of the Nerds (1984) rip-off. Just as bad, in her own right, is Pepper Binkley’s Kim. For most of the film, poor Kim gets to run around and apologize to Jennifer for sleeping with her scuzzy boyfriend. For the rest of the time, she gets to run around after Paul, following him like a puppy dog and blindly following every request/directive like a cult member. It’s a pretty disturbing character, to be honest: an empty shell that gets to be, by turns, docile and horn-dog wild.
If The Kitchen doesn’t seem to have much regard for its female characters, than it has absolutely no regard whatsoever for the walking penises that populate the film. Paul, obviously, is set up as a thoroughly disgusting, despicable character: he’s never less than a douchebag but he also fits the bill as “bad guy,” in a way, so that’s not surprising. More surprising and unfortunate, however, is how equally obnoxious and odious the rest of the guys are, especially the “nice guys.” For the most parts, the “nice guys” in The Kitchen are actually passive-aggressive jerks who wear their female “targets” down by sheer dogged persistence, insinuating themselves into their lives whether they want them or not. Exhibit A would obviously have to be Stan, Jennifer “best friend.” He spends the entire movie rushing around, trying to make everything perfect and over-the-top, despite Jennifer’s constant protests and requests to just be left alone. He frets about the tiniest detail, all the while dropping not-so-subtle hints that he’s in love with Jennifer and only wants to treat her like a queen. When she’s not interested, however, the worm turns immediately, becoming an acid-tongued, nasty little troglodyte who verbally assaults and disparages both Jennifer and her sister. What a fucking great guy!
Penny’s stuck with Kenny, a dweeb who kissed her, once, and now thinks he’s the father of her baby. Despite Penny’s constant (albeit sarcastic) requests for him to get lost, Kenny flat-out tells her that he has no intention of going anywhere and will be there for her forever, whether she wants it or not. When the film ends with the “happy” revelation that Penny and Kenny have become a couple (“We’re having a baby!” he blurts out, to Jennifer), it doesn’t sound like “happily ever after” so much as the beginning of a lifelong prison sentence. As set up in the film, Penny has no choice over her relationship whatsoever: the guy wants it, so there it is. He’s a “nice guy,” however, and he obviously adores her, so everything’s totally cool. Obviously. Because nothing about this sounds anything like stalking. At all.
I’m not meaning to imply that The Kitchen has some kind of hidden, misogynist agenda but I am plainly stating that it has a sloppy, lazy script, which certainly doesn’t help matters. Everything in the film is tone-deaf, especially the dialogue (with the exception of those aforementioned Jennifer/Penny scenes), but certain elements are particularly cringe-worthy. A running joke about an unknown Iraq war veteran starts off innocuously enough (Stan doesn’t want pot around because war vets are “pretty much cops”…I’ll admit to laughing) until it becomes painful when Stan mistakes the only black guy at the party, Andre (Baron Vaughn), as the vet. He has to be, you know, because all douchy white people think that all black people serve in the military. It’s hilarious…aren’t you laughing, yet? For balance, however, the script gives Andre the immortal line, “This is the whitest party I’ve ever seen: it’s all beer and Arcade Fire.” You know…because only white people drink beer and listen to indie rock. What a hoot! Wait…you’re still not laughing?
Perhaps you’ll find the scene where Penny blasts Amanda and Paul with a fire extinguisher to be more up your alley? How about the edge-of-your-seat moment where Jennifer and Penny try to make the birthday cake fall on the floor, just because. Do you laugh when dweebs get made because the hosts picked Coral Reef to play the party instead of their totally ass-kicking band? Get ready to hold yer guts: there’s plenty of all that here! We also get a lovable weirdo/stoner roommate who’s seldom seen but just might be responsible for the baby in Penny’s belly. Cuz he’s quirky and stuff, you dig? He’s got crazy, ruffled hair and eats cereal whenever he feels like it…what girl wouldn’t fall madly in love with that?
Despite genuinely trying to give the movie a chance, The Kitchen lost me somewhere between the awful characters and the wooden dialogue. While I do admit some pleasure from seeing Paul get blasted with a fire extinguisher and kicked in the nuts (he really is an awful, terrible human being: any worse and his sensei would be telling him to “sweep the leg”), the rest of the film alternates between boring, pretentious “Indie-Film-101” clichés and outrageously stupid scenarios. I kept wanting to root for Jennifer but even she disappears from the film for a time: when the guest of honor doesn’t even want to be at the party, it might be time to call it a night.