This is going to be a short and sweet review of The Menu because even the trailer gives away too much. Instead of some deep analysis of the film, I just want to tell you to watch it because the surprises here are better than anything I can write about it.
Directed by Mark Mylod and written by Seth Reiss & Will Tracy, The Menu stars Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Arturo Castro, and Judith Light. In it, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) are a young couple traveling to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant called Hawthorne. The culmination of Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) work, the lavish dinner he has planned is fine dining with a lesson.
Ralph Fiennes is the man that The Menu revolves around in more ways than one. Narratively, it’s his menu that the rich find themselves trapped in and his orders that the sous chefs follow. But also visually, Fiennes finds himself at the center of shots, and your eyes are pulled directly to him, glued in place when he speaks. Additionally, his deadpan delivery of jokes helps push the film’s humor to rights I didn’t expect. Moments of comedy delivered with gravitas allow them to get a belly laugh for the crowd, followed by an “oh.”
But Fiennes’ talent for comedy doesn’t negate the darkness that permeates every course. Retribution is served hot, cold, and deconstructed, every moment has an element of dread hiding under comedic timing that pushes The Menu to stand out from other films this year.
To be honest, I expected The Menu to begin to pull its punches, to somehow make the rich assholes in the room at least a little redeemable. It doesn’t. The Menu isn’t just a scathing critique of the rich who do nothing but consume and beckon others to serve them, it’s an unrelenting cathartic punishment of the takers by those who have been tasked to give. It’s righteous meanness that absolutely works.
In addition to fantastic acting and a tight script, the film also features beautiful shots of food, pulling out elements of The Chef’s Table, to highlight each of the seven dishes being served in the meal. This showcases the food while also allowing the audience moments to breathe and laugh as they take stock of the way the dishes have been described. By pulling the food to the forefront, we get to see the art that will lose its meaning once the rich unhinge their jaws to consume it. Chef Slowik’s menu comes from the last embers of a burned-out man who has had the joy he once felt pulled from him repeatedly by selfish and entitled diners.
While it’s easy to just think The Menu is skewering foodies, it isn’t. It’s raking an entire class of people over the coals over and over again until you realize it. It’s about those who take and those who give. It’s about the consumption of art and how it once digested becomes shit. There is no middle ground in The Menu, no pleas of ignorance, and that’s why it works.
Easily one of the best films of the year, The Menu manages to be just as hilarious as it is aggressive. The laughs help the critique go down well and show that satire doesn’t need to be subtle, but can rather blow a door open and still succeed. Sharp, cruel, and cathartic, The Menu is sublime.
The Menu screened as a part of Fantastic Fest 2022’s programming and is playing in theaters.
Easily one of the best films of the year, The Menu manages to be just as hilarious as it is aggressive and that’s why it works. The laughs help the critique go down well and shows that satire doesn’t need to just be subtle, but can rather blow a door open and still succeed. Sharp, cruel, and cathartic, The Menu is sublime.