Review of the well-acted but empty gastronomic thriller, ‘The Menu’

January 19, 2023 Mario Bautista 457 views


Menu2THE Menu’ is meant to be a satire, a black comedy about the rich and it certainly reminds us of “Triangle of Sadness”. It has so many characters but it happens for only one night. The movie starts with the arrival of the guests at the pier.

We first meet Tyler Ledford (Nicolas Hoult), a fanatical food enthusiast with his date, Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy). Then come Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), a food critic, and her editor, Ted (Paul Adelstein), has-been movie actor George (John Leguizamo) and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero), the very rich couple Richard and Anne Leibrand (Reed Birney and Judith Light), and others.

They will have a special multi-course dinner in a swanky exclusive place called Hawthorn, located in a private island. It’s managed by Chef Slovik (Ralph Fiennes), along with his maitre d, Elsa (Hong Chau). Slowik is a revered giant in the food industry, who rose from being a burger cook to become a most esteemed chef.

Each course in the dinner is a production number, with Chef Slowik delivering long arias about the origins of each mouth watering dish with flourish. They are served, among others, lemon pearls with algae, milk from a cow that has been aged for 120 days and a breadless plate substituted with other supposedly savory ingredients. These are all presented as “art on the edge of the abyss”, whatever that means.

It all seems weird and with the third course, the sins of each guest, ranging from illicit affairs to cases of swindling, are revealed. As the fourth dish is served, a sous chef shoots himself in the mouth in front of the horrified guests who are told it’s all part of the menu.

When one of the guests tried to leave, his finger is cut off. Then Chef Slovik shows them his business associate hanging in the air like an angel with wings and is then drowned in the ocean.

Things get from bad to worse and it soon dawns on the guests that they will all die because of the sins Slovik says they are guilty of.

Among them, only Margot is the one who is not in the original list as Tyler just took her with him to the island only as a last minute replacement for his date who backed out. Margot is an odd man out and a very feisty girl.

It turns out it’s not even her real name and she has a secret profession. Most of the guests try to escape, specially the men who are given a chance to do so, but they all failed.

Margot is later confronted by Elsa, who is jealous that Chef Slowik is grooming Margot to replace her. She tries to kill Margot, but she fights back. She is the perfect foil for the tyrannical Slowik and Elsa.

“The Menu” happens for only one night in one location. The evening gets more and more menacing and everything seems dark and full of dread.

The film is well acted. Fiennes is believably authoritative as the despotic chef. Anya Taylor-Joy is definitely one of the best young actresses in Hollywood today.

Directed by Mark Mylod (“Game of Thrones”, “Succession”), this is a film that critics will say is full of layers and meaning.

They will say it’s about art as Slowik treats each dish as art, from conception and creation to the reaction of its recipients. They will say it’s a biting farce showing humanity in microcosm and about Slowik’s revenge against bad taste, fast food, culinary pretensions and social inequality.

But for ordinary viewers like us, who cares about such futile attempts at black comedy that skewers the rich and the privileged? In the end, it’s all unsatisfying as a claustrophobic thriller in a confined location and really falls short in serving us a fulfilling dinner of deranged delights that certainly fails to satisfy our tastebuds.

To begin with, we don’t know why all the cooks and assistants of Slowik will willingly allow themselves to be killed by this demented chef along with his accused guests? Are they also being punished?

It looks like the movie presents Slowik as god who is punishing sinners, but it is taken to the extreme and is just plain incredible. Most of the characters are superficial archetypes, mostly pretentious and smug with no depth to them as amusing they may be. But it all lacks coherence.

And it ends with us wondering: what is exactly its point? It looks like the dinner is heaped with so much tasty flavors, but in the end, they don’t really come together to be a truly satisfying whole but is more of a profoundly empty viewing experience that only leaves us more hungry.