A deliciously funny satire against the super wealthy.
We’ve seen many movies about the rich and powerful over the past couple of years, and while The Menu may not serve up anything particularly new to add when it comes to it’s take-down of the super wealthy, it more than makes up for it with a hilarious thrill ride that is a true chefs kiss (and all the other food/restaurant related puns you can think of).
The Menu is a dark comedy thriller that takes place in an exclusive restaurant called Hawthorne, which is situated on a remote island. The restaurant is run by a renounced chef named Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) and is attended by a group of wealthy patrons. As the night goes on, a series of bizarre events reveal dark intentions in the restaurant.
Even in the beginning, when things are pretty innocent as the restaurant’s wealthy guests arrive, director Mark Mylod does a spectacular job building tension. It’s clear from the get-go that something’s off and there’s more being cooked up beyond the abstract meals these people are going to eat. That slow unravel continues for a good chunk of time, to the point where the reveal seems almost impossible to be satisfying, yet it firmly is. The film drops so many twists and turns along the way, not just stemming from Slowik’s dark plot, but even the guests have some secrets that they’re hiding either from each other or the audience. It’s currently unclear if a second viewing would provide me with more hidden hints at some of the reveals, but they were pulled off in a way that felt both natural and shocking.
As thrilling as the film is, it’s also truly one of the funniest movies you’ll see all year. The film is persistently hilarious as the events get wilder and wilder. Co-writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy very cleverly skewer high dining and the way people can be absurdly pretentious about food. The contrast between the upper and lower class is made abundantly clear with the relationship between Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who we grow to learn isn’t as used to the higher-class lifestyle as her foodie date is. A example of that would be when one of there meals is literally just a plate of tiny ounces of multi-coloured gels. Margot is opposed to eating this, as Tyler is providing the most pompous description imaginable for these gels.
The jabs at haute cuisine never feel like simple jabs, but add to the film being a deliciously funny satire against the super wealthy. The group of elites here are played with the self-righteousness that you would expect, but not one of them felt like a lazy caricature. In a weird way, you can find yourself relating to some of their more grounded character traits in ways that are ugly to face, which serve the film well in its “eat the rich” through-line. Barriers aren’t necessarily broken in its messaging about the rich, as it mainly sticks to the idea that most upper class people are self-indulging narcissists that are too up their own ass and, most importantly here, too removed from reality. Even when the restaurants facades have completely faded and everyone is clearly in danger, most of the guests still have a sense of naiveté.
Taylor-Joy is our defacto lead here, and she plays that role flawlessly. Taylor-Joy has a natural movie star quality to her and Margot is arguably the most level-headed character in the room. Despite that, she’s a very entertaining character and an easy one to fear for, as she is a clear guide into a world that neither her nor us are too familiar with.
Nicholas Hoult seems to have been type-casted as a lovable dimwit, and he brings that here as well. It’s just as funny watching him try to be sophisticated with the increasingly more ridiculous meals he’s receiving. Even when Slowik’s plot takes flight, Tyler still revers Slowik as a God, and Hoult’s almost endearing boyish stupidity makes it much more fun. Hong Chau also gives a scene stealing performance as Elsa, the restaurant’s manager whose commitment to the restaurant’s “food is art” mentality is very amusing. She’s often mainly silent, which contributes to an effectively creepy presence throughout.
But this film might’ve fallen apart if the actor playing Julian Slowik wasn’t fully committed to the many layered complexities of the character, and luckily, Fiennes is more than capable. Fiennes has such a mysterious aura to him, we can rarely ever tell what he’s thinking or what his intentions are. Yet when he reveals his sinister plot, it’s demented and insane, but you can easily believe he’s capable of it. A lesser actor would have played Slowik as nothing more than a conniving cartoon villain, but Fiennes sucks you in with his perfectionism and psychopathic tendencies, and he’s damn funny in the process.
Without going into any specifics, I think the ending won’t work for everyone. It doesn’t provide any easy answers, nor is it its intention to, and some could be a little put-off by the explosive climax. But to me, that’s what made the ending work. It exemplifies the extremes and contrast between Slowik’s pretentious values and the rich guests’ lack of self-awareness. This film is very much an “eat the rich” sort of film, but one can even argue that it’s attacking the very nature of the “eat the rich” mentality in the process.
The movie offers up a heaping course of witty satire, but even without that, The Menu is a true blast to watch. From it’s fun cast of characters to its increasingly more insane plot, this film will satisfy any hungry audiences who want a thrilling time at the movies.
Likely: Best Original Screenplay
Should be Considered: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Best Lead Actress (Anya Taylor-Joy), Best Supporting Actress (Hong Chau), Best Editing, Best Production Design
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Critic and journalist student from Toronto, Canada
Favorite Actor: Brendan Fraser