THE MENU Review – A Darkly Comedic Critique of the Art of Fine Dining
E.L. King says The Menu is a deliciously vicious satire and decidedly punchy gourmet horror.
The Menu directed by Mark Mylod and written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy is an unexpectedly fresh thriller that humorous digs at fine dining. It’s deliciously vicious satire and decidedly punchy gourmet horror that takes audiences into the intense world of elite restaurants and haute cuisine. The rituals of a tasting menu evoke an acute terror that is palpable with each course taking a darker and more dramatic turn.
The film follows Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who doesn’t care for the pomp of high society, and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) an aggressive and pretentious foodie. The couple travels to remote Hawthorn island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a special tasting menu for his guests. However, everything is not what it seems. The Menu boils over with delightful performances, dry wit, and an uproarious clap announcing each course that’s sure to startle audiences.
Having had the displeasure of witnessing firsthand the pressure cooker and anxiety bubble of the kitchen during service, it’s worth questioning, who does fine dining truly serve? Mylod, Reiss, and Tracy hold up a mirror to wealth and privilege putting on display the stark dichotomy between the “givers and the takers” in society — in this instance, the cooks and the guests — while pointing a finger at the social class system weaved into the hospitality industry. The quality of food and who consumes it have long been tied to a person’s social class and perceived rank in society. The upper class eats what signifies exclusivity and access to rare goods, while the lower class eats what is readily available.
Margot represents the class equivalent of an outsider. She doesn’t belong or appreciate the fine dining hubbub. When Chef Slowik shares an exhaustive speech before service begins, instructing everyone to not just eat the food, but experience it. Margot sits unimpressed by what is ultimately performance art, unlike her date. Tyler is enamored with every moment of the experience — he’s a pretentious, selfish, and obnoxious, pick-me foodie.
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The colorful assembly of diners includes a pair of conceited food critics, Lillian (Janet McTeer) — who gave Slowik the review that catapulted his career — and Ted (Paul Adelstein). A self-absorbed actor (John Leguizamo) whose relevance in society is fading. An older husband and wife, Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light) who’ve dined at Hawthorn on numerous occasions despite its lofty price tag and a table of Wall Street “dudebros” that work for the restaurant’s key investor. Margot doesn’t begin to really shine in opposition to the other diners until the second to the third act. Everyone delivers convincing and engaging performances as dislikable characters.
Hong Chau gives a hilarious and likely to be overshadowed performance as Elsa, the right-hand woman to Chef Slowik, who oversees the staff and guests with a firm hand. Her curt delivery of lines, even when expressing what should be a pleasing sentiment really sets the tone of the film. She is our introduction to Hawthorn and the folkloric vibe of the isolated community of cooks on the island and their devotion to Slowik, who in essence feels like a cult leader.
Cinematographer Peter Deming delivers tight and tense imagery showcasing the beauty of food and the frightening intensity of the diner’s circumstances. With a razor-sharp and unforgiving script, magnificent performances, and excellent direction, Mylod gives us a lot to chew on in The Menu. The film’s pleasantly ludicrous and satisfying ending certainly puts emphasis on the art of fine dining taking the joy out of eating.
The Menu is now playing in theaters.