The most exciting film periodical of the second score of the 21st century, Filmhounds Magazine, presents a reviewing experience of The Menu, a scholarly tour de force by the rising star of cinematic scrutiny, Lee Bartholomew Hazell Esq.
Ladies and gentlemen. Today I serve you nouns, adjectives, more nouns; the entire range of the grammatical spectrum will be used to deliver a sumptuous assault on the senses as we stare into the very soul of cinema, and examine auteur Mark Mylod's latest addition to his filmic oeuvre.
A reduction of story and narrative, served with a soupçon of context and a smattering of inspiration.
Just off the shore of a northern US coast, there is a unique island colonised for a singular purpose. Every animal, ecosystem, building and occupant is there to serve the Hawthorne. An eatery extraordinaire, the Hawthorne is the crowning achievement of the enigmatic Chef Slowik, the most feared chef in all fine-dining. It is to this destination that Tyler, a man of much culinary passion, immense unearned wealth, but extraordinarily little substance invites Margot, his slyly streetwise hook-up, for an evening of gastronomic wonders she could scarcely dream of. And at $12,500 a head, you'd better believe he's picking up the check.
Joining them for the event are Tyler's fellow unspectacular elites, the generationally wealthy and the astonishingly egotistical. The trailer would make you think that the film is going to turn into yet another version of ‘The Deadliest Game' – the most remade story in Hollywood – where the rich hunt the poor for sport, although in this version the class tables are turned. While the idea of an entire kitchen staff hunting their millionaire benefactors and turning them into Michelin Star meals sounds like an entertaining – if disposable – night out, screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have fortunately come up with something much cleverer and distinctly funnier.
A critique for a selection of three performances, accompanied by a malaise of cameos for a diverse ensemble.
Anya Talor Joy's Margot is so over everything that's happening right now. That's the first vibe she puts out; pretty much the film's opening salvo. Really puts you in an appropriate mood to spend the next two hours with a bunch of richer-than-god arseholes. Opposite her, Nicholas Hoult is almost too good in his role of Tyler. He plays the trust fund brat as so childlike, you become drawn in by his doe-eyed innocence and start looking for ways to excuse his unbearably privileged behaviour. You almost want to treat being rich as if it were a hereditary condition, ‘It's not his fault he's an ignorant bore, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth!'
Unfortunately, Ralph Fiennes' performance never fulfils the potential of what your imagination conjures when you think, ‘Ralph Fiennes as a celebrity chef.' Fiennes plays Slowik, as just that, the wick of a slow-burning candle, who came to terms with being snuffed out long ago. He's tortured, but just like Margot, he's over it. Two of the three lead characters' big mood is resignation. It doesn't scream compelling. His default mode is sighing and side-eyed glances; passive aggression that never loses the passive. It's a bold choice and he handles exasperation deftly, but you can't help but compare this performance with the wildly explosive celebrity chefs that inspired the character in the first place. The whole time I was watching, I could not help but think of his eruptions of rage in In Bruges, and wonder what might have been.
But the real stars of the show are the ensemble cast of wealthy dickheads that populate the dinner tables at the Hawthorne. Paul Adelstein is superb as the publisher of the most egotistical food writer imaginable, crawling up her ass with the glee of the most legendarily pathetic minions. John Leguizamo plays a washed up comedy actor, and sure, that might not be a stretch, but the self-deprecation is chef's kiss (pun totally intended). But ironically, the main course is Slowik's second in command, the appropriately frosty Elsa. The maître d' of the Hawthorne, Elsa isn't in charge of taking care of the guests, she in charge of keeping them in line. Her stern gaze and blunt delivery is the sorely needed catharsis against the undeserved arrogance of the pretentious clientele. The kind of catharsis we're missing from Slowick.
A deconstruction of the structure and delivery that breaths life into the humble written word.
Reading the blurb on IMDB, you'd hardly suspect that the predominant noise you'd make during this haute cuisine thriller would be howls of laughter. But this shocking and often gruesome suspense movie is a mostly triumphant satire on the compromises we make to achieve our dreams in a capitalist dystopia. When the characters were in hysterics on one side of the screen, I was in a completely different kind of hysterics on the other. The Menu knows exactly what it is and what experience it wants you to have. It is constantly reminding you that seeing these horrible things happen to those hideous people should be an experience of joy, not horror.
In fact, it's when the movie gets closest to the edge that it recognises the need to pull you back with a little humour. It knows exactly how to break the ice when things are getting too tense, with lines that are funny, but also impressively descriptive of the character's personalities, flaws, and development. Even better is that they come out of nowhere, like the comedic equivalent of a jump scare. Just as the tension is at its highest, that's when it hits you with a clever little gag you didn't see coming, right when you're at your most vulnerable.
Camerawork confit, paired with a robust and oaky consideration of the visual arts.
While the script keeps the temperature warm with its plethora of zingers, the camera keeps a cold distance away from the action. It moves with the same precision and minimalism as the overwrought food served by the Head Chef. It's almost a nature documentary in its impersonal execution, inviting you to be David Attenborough witnessing the horrific deeds of the hunters and the hunted, while never participating, only observing and contemplating.
The food photography is simply to die for. Not since M&S food adverts have pictures of plated portions looked so pornographic. Either enter the cinema on a full stomach or be prepared to order the whole directory off Deliveroo when you leave.
Our finale! The definitive ruling on 2022's boldest and most flavourful satire.
The Menu is pure indulgence from start to finish. Yes, there are some major moving parts to this movie that don't quite become all that they could be, but at its best, it's a movie that understands our base need for these greedy, privileged idiots to get what's coming to them. It's an experience it delivers with a wink and a smile. It not only indulges us, but it enables us, excuses us for our worst instincts. Yes, it dresses up in the clothes of the thriller, the cold blue pallet of a Scandinavian murder mystery, the slow-moving camera of the Oscar-bait crime drama, but in the end, it is a hoot and a holler of a comedy. A £5 beer and burger in a million-dollar steakhouse where it's the best thing on the menu, and everyone there knows it.
The Menu is in cinemas now.