REVIEW: The Menu (2022)

Ralph Fiennes’ Julian Slowik sizes up Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot, who wasn’t supposed to be there, in THE MENU — PHOTO: Eric Zachanowich / Searchlight Pictures.

Directed by Mark Mylod — Screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy.

Mark Mylod’s The Menu follows Margot (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and her food-obsessed boyfriend, Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult). Tyler has paid for them to go to this highly exclusive restaurant called ‘Hawthorne,’ which resides on this little remote island. Hawthorne is home to the world-renowned chef Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his highly devoted kitchen staff. Tyler has paid an obscene amount of money to get there because he worships Slowik, and, in actuality, the trip wasn’t originally meant for Margot but rather for his ex-girlfriend. In fact, Margot seems wholly disinterested in the pretentious dishes and overall culture around high-end cooking. She stands out immediately among the guests who also include a food critic that can make or break careers (played by Janet McTeer), tech investors, a past-it actor (played by John Leguizamo), and others. For this evening, Slowik has prepared a detailed but theatrical menu that toys with expectations and that takes aim at his guests. But, eventually, Margot and others start to question whether what is happening is showy high-end cooking or something much more malicious.

The team behind The Menu is a fascinating concoction of biting comedy with a writing duo, in Will Tracy and Seth Reiss, with experience as late-night writers and The Onion writers, as well as a director, in Mark Mylod, whose feature debut was Ali G Indahouse but who is primarily known for his work as a director on shows like Entourage and Succession. Together, they have presented us with a delicious satirical thriller that takes aim at all elements of the world of high-end dining. A biting and cynical thriller, it lumps people into two groups — the givers and the takers — and then has good fun taking down everyone from the pretense of food critics and fluffy fine-dining to both those who step all over someone’s hard work and the obsessive supporters who will swallow anything happily. It is quite easy to transfer these piping-hot satirical takedowns from the high-end dining world and onto the film community and auteur worship, and I had great fun making those connections as it went along. I suppose some audiences might be taken aback by seeing themselves in some of these characters, but I think that’s all a part of the fun.

Because this is a really fun film to watch, and I think the exact tone of the film surprised the audience I watched the film with. This is an absurdly funny thriller with dark comedy and even horror elements. And it is jam-packed with tasty tricks up its sleeves. There was one point late in the film when I thought the film was going in a tired and predictable direction with a newly introduced character, but then it zigged and did something much more entertaining. I also think the acting is quite good. Most of the cast play characters that are quite easy to dislike, and part of the fun is seeing them react to what is going on. Leguizamo and McTeer play their parts quite well, and so does Paul Adelstein who plays the food critic’s editor, who is a step behind the critic with every comment she makes (and who will absolutely correct himself if she disagrees with him). The film’s three primary roles are played really well by Taylor-Joy, Hoult, and, especially, Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes does great work, broadly and nuanced, as the controlled chef accepting nothing but the best (and perfectly willing to dish out core-breaking insults). Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult get a lot out of their couple’s odd fit, as the laidback character played by Taylor-Joy sometimes goes for a blasé and cool approach, while Hoult’s character’s dorky worship makes him gradually more and more toxic as the film goes on.

Without revealing too much, I was very happy that the film ended exactly where it did. The film doesn’t overstay its welcome and its ending isn’t too far-fetched. Though I suppose that some could find the ending less than satisfactory. Furthermore, some might argue that it could’ve used more meat on the bone, as its cynical sentiments can be read quite early on (and it isn’t exactly subtle), but, frankly, I think my biggest criticism is that the overall premise, once it fully reveals itself, relies on a suspension of disbelief in that one could argue that one essential group of characters wouldn’t all be on the same page here (which the film presents them to be).

All in all, though, Mark Mylod’s The Menu is a darkly comedic thriller and a scrumptious and sizzling satire of the often-wealthy takers in society. In a year that has already given us The Bear, The Menu is yet another reminder of how stressful restaurant work is, and, frankly, The Menu felt to me like the product of what would happen if Triangle of Sadness, which this film would pair well with, was a Blumhouse product and not a prestigious Ruben Östlund film. Absolutely loved it. I ate it all up.

8.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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