‘The Menu’ Is To Dine For

Thrilling tension with a side of satire and seasoned with social commentary. That’s what “The Menu” brings to the table.

Thrilling tension with a side of satire and seasoned with social commentary. That’s what “The Menu” brings to the table.

“The Menu” follows a party of foodies, critics and socialites who’ve received an invitation for an exclusive dining experience. Located on the remote island of Hawthorne, famed chef Julian Slowik provides an eccentric and personalized menu to the guests.

Mark Mylod’s direction adds plenty of style to the substance. Despite most of the movie taking place in a single location, the intimate camerawork from Mylod (“Succession,” “Shameless”) gives depth to each scene. Meals are presented with regal elegance and scenes of suspense are chillingly focused.

As the courses roll out, the increasing theatrics of Slowik’s food reveals a theme of hostility. Featuring a menu of murder and mutilation to the guests, Slowik holds the party hostage to experience each course to the violent end.

Written by satire news outlet “The Onion” alumni Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, “The Menu” blends an array of tones and themes without ever feeling unbalanced.

It’s a thriller, but surprisingly humorous. The juxtaposition between character interactions and the situations they’re in breathes levity in an otherwise nihilistic movie.

In spite of the increasing violence, die-hard food connoisseur Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) ignores the life-or-death stakes to instead dissect the flavor palettes of the meat and wine.

Hoult (“X-Men: First Class,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”), along with the rest of the cast, elevates “The Menu” by contrasting its bleak premise with absurdist personalities.

Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes, is the clear standout of these personalities. Fiennes (“Schindler’s List,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) is the epitome of intimidation as the celebrity chef obsessively monologues over each meal’s purpose and his cruel intent for the guests.

Slowik’s motivations are to punish those he deems have sullied his work as an artist — critics who demoralize auteurs, foodies like Tyler who break down the art but can’t even cook and the wealthy who consume without regard.

Anya Taylor Joy’s lead as the enigmatic Margo is the exception above all. As Tyler’s date, Margo is the outsider of the bunch, having no connection to the food industry or any source of exuberant wealth. Joy (“The Witch,” “The Queen’s Gambit”) acts as the foil to Fiennes’ Slowik by refusing to indulge in his theatrics or eat any of his food.

The conflict between Margo and Slowik is what “The Menu” revolves around — a discussion of artists versus their audiences.

Slowik dies on the hill that as artists become increasingly coveted, their work loses purpose, as audiences glutton themselves on the work he painstakingly crafts. 

Fiennes’ character constantly states he’s sold himself out. By accumulating the fame and wealth to provide near-perfect dishes, he can serve only those who can afford his services. Yet, by catering to the elite, his food becomes trivialized. How important is a five star meal to a guest who exclusively eats five star meals? 

In this way, “The Menu” also doubles as a metaphor for class, with Slowik and his chefs being “providers” that are undervalued and overlooked for the commodities they cook.

Margo’s position, however, calls out Slowik’s dogma for the dispassionate nihilism it is. 

By focusing on making the most perfect product, the chef forgets the point of the work. Slowik no longer cooks for passion but for duty, losing the love for the craft and pinning it on those around him.

Without saying too much, “The Menu” ends this conflict by rushing to embrace the simple. Enjoyment can be found through criticism and dissection, but sometimes a cheap cheeseburger is just better than a steak.

If any faults are to be said of “The Menu” it’s that its ingredients don’t always compliment the final dish. The film possesses a wide margin of philosophies and characters, making it feel overstuffed for its under two hour runtime.

Despite the disjointed end and overflow of ideas, the product is more than palatable. The cast, themes and presentation all provide tantalizing entertainment that’ll leave the viewer both satisfied and hungry for more.

“The Menu” is a full course meal. It’s a criticism of criticism, a parody of elitism and a technical showcase of beautifully made food that puts “Food Network” to shame. This film isn’t sloppily made, staying appetizing up until dessert.

“The Menu,” rated R, is in theaters now.

Featured image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr