I like to think of myself, sometimes, as a bit of a foodie. I cannot tell you every individual ingredient in a meal, and I don’t need to overpay for one or two on a pile of crumbs that is labelled as “deconstructed beans on toast”, but I am happy to a) try new things, and b) pay more for a quality experience, especially as I head towards the third year anniversary of a sober life. I completely agree with those who laugh at the pretentiousness and snobbery that often accompanies “serious” foodies though, although it isn’t half as ridiculous as the nonsense you get from wine snobs.
The Menu is a film that happily bursts the bubble of the worst food snobbery, as well as poking fun at pretentious criticism, making me slightly wary of reviewing it (although I always strive to avoid pretentious criticism), but happy to share in the joy that so many others have already found in it.
A number of people have been invited to a private dining experience, an intimate restaurant on a small island, and it isn’t long until things start to become dark and sinister. The diners are treated rather contemptuously, but that may be part of the whole theatre experience. Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is impressed by everything around him, he’s just so delighted to finally experience the work of Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), while his date for the evening (“Margot”, played by Anya Taylor-joy) is completely non-plussed, at least until the starters are out of the way.
Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, and directed by Mark Mylod, it comes as no surprise that these people have, between them, delivered a good deal of work for Succession and The Onion. The Menu has the willingness to ridicule those seeking to attain unearned rewards, a la Succession, while also creeping further and further into the kind of hilarious absurdity of The Onion.
The script is as sharp as any of the kitchen knives, and the visuals and atmosphere throughout are nicely in line with the fine dining setting, crisp and clear, and the orderly manner of every dish serving helps to keep focus in the right areas, all the way to what is arguably the greatest cinematic dessert ever presented in film.
It’s hard to pick out a standout performance, everyone is so good here, but I’ll start by praising Fiennes (who can deliver a performance of subtle and controlled comedy that easily sits alongside anything from any celebrated comedic performer you could mention). Always in control, and always happy to show the diners exactly how he views them, Fiennes is excellent as the pivotal figure in the film. Hoult is an nervy puppy in comparison, and his performance becomes funnier as events around him become much harder to ignore or move on from. Taylor-Joy is cooler than cool throughout, her ability to point out that the emperor may actually be naked making her the most fascinating member of the dining party. As Taylor-Joy is always a fascinating onscreen presence, she’s a perfect fit for her role. Strong support comes from Hong Chau (Elsa, the maitre d’), John Leguizamo (a faded star who claims to know the chef), Janet McTeer (a restaurant critic), Reed Birney and Judith Light (a married couple with a strained relationship), and many more, including some actors who play some eminently douchey “dudebros” so well that I hated them for pretty much every minute they were onscreen.
The patrons in the movie may be taken aback by what is served up to them, but viewers should be satisfied with every delicacy, especially while reading the descriptions of each course. This is equal parts twisted and hilarious, constructed as beautifully as any dish you might see helping someone to win a season of Masterchef. In other words, it is simply . . . “chef’s kiss”.
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