'The Menu' review: Savory dark comedy skewers obsessive food culture
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
The closing minutes of Mark Mylod’s brilliant satire “The Menu” is one of the most refreshing and brutal finales in recent memory and gives new meaning to an uber-popular, delicious snack. To reveal what it is would be blasphemous, but it’s a scorching indictment of what our society, especially in the digital age, deems worthy of excitement and allure. Such is the entire four course meal presented throughout “The Menu” where an avant garde chief at a popular, expensive restaurant located on a desolate island gives his less than innocent and handpicked assortment of guests a taste of their own medicine. “The Menu” spins a bold yarn whose primary targets, foodies, influencers, the elite and lousy actors, are the victims of their own downfall. The dialogue is savory and the aftertaste sits squarely in your throat as the credits roll and you’re left with this shaky feeling that perhaps we shouldn’t take little things in life for granted.
“The Menu” offers more than enough intrigue and shifting character perspectives to keep you hooked while embedding itself with a serrated edge that grows sharper as the motives and intentions become realized. Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy understand the success of any cinematic meal steams from the nourishment audiences feel as they’re leaving. I tell you, dear reader, this viewer was stuffed. And it begins with the characters and how they’ll understand their purpose as it pertains to ‘The Menu,’ a mantra repeated over and over throughout the movie like an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen” where the contestants scream “Yes, Chef” (although, that phrase exists here too).
Our first insight into this world of obsessed foodies begins with Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler, who has brought along Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot as his guest for an evening with the prestigious and highly lauded Chef Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes with the utmost dignity and respect). Among the restaurant goers includes a washed-up actor trying to rehabilitate his image (John Leguizamo) his assistant (Aimee Carrero); an ego-centrist food critic (Janet McTeer); a trio of shady finance bros who love to flex their power; and an older couple (Reed Birney and Judith Light) who are regulars. An eclectic group if you ask me.
The outlier to all of this, of course, is Margot, a last minute addition who is throwing off Slowik’s entire vibe and meticulously crafted evening. But that doesn’t stop the dishes from coming and with them, their own backstory and presentation. It’s here where “The Menu” shifts from dark comedy to full-blown horror and Colin Stetson’s score takes on entirely new life. The appetizers and entrées are meant to stir the pot and put the entire guest list on notice as the food items (if you can call them food) reference complicated and egregious pasts that no amount of money or blackmailing can fix.
It’s no shocker who “The Menu” is skewering: a culture that gets its facts from scrolling TikTok and posting their dinners on Instagram. In fact, the first rule of Slowik’s restaurant is that no pictures are allowed (a rule that Tyer breaks almost instantaneously). In trying to be as vague as possible, it becomes evident the overarching themes Slowik is conjuring and the lengths he’ll go in order to achieve them. But it’s Margot, with her inquisitive and stubborn mind, who challenges his creative mantra, leading to a perplexing tête-à-tête where both characters confront their own level headedness while haggling over a simple cuisine. Fiennes, to his credit, soars with the material, delivering several monologues for the ages. One entitled “The Mess,” should have a special place in cinematic history.
The light and passion that comes with a craft (be it, writing, performing or, in this case, cooking) can deteriorate the longer one deviates from the path set for themselves (It’s easy to become distant and unappreciative if you forget why you’re here in the first place). And “The Menu,” in flipping the script on individuals who behave online differently as opposed to when the pressure hits the fan in real life, brings up an important point on what the true definition of success and social clout means. In that manner, “The Menu” is a delicious and diabolically satisfying metaphor that sustains its momentum on the shoulders of Fiennes, Taylor-Joy and the rest of this sizzling ensemble. The palette might occasionally yield a bitter flavor (as the film jockeys between genres and characters), but “The Menu” serves up a whirlwind cleanser that won’t easily be shaken nor forgotten.
THE MENU opens in theaters Friday, November 18th.