The Menu Review – A Deliciously Savage Take on the Fine Dining Scene

By Lori Meek
Published: January 16, 2023 (Last updated: 4 weeks ago)
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The Menu Review
The Menu (Credit - Searchlight Pictures)
4.5

Summary

Unhinged with its “eat the rich” metaphor, the film is dark and funny and the actors, particularly the leads, give top-notch performances. This is the type of film worth watching over and over again, only to peel apart more hidden layers each time.

With A-listers like Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in lead roles, The Menu has been making waves since its premiere at TIFF. Written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and based on the latter’s personal haute cuisine dining experience, the film was directed by Mark Mylod (known for his work on the likes of Succession and Game of Thrones). It follows a group of wealthy patrons who find themselves at the mercy of a world-class chef who’s finally had enough of his snobbish clientele. 

The Menu Review and Plot Summary

The Menu starts with food-enthusiast Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margot (Taylor-Joy), as they’re waiting for the boat to take them to a remote island where they’ll dine in a luxurious and exclusive restaurant run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes).

While Tyler’s about to burst with excitement at the prospect of trying the chef’s food, Margot is repulsed at the cost of $1,250 per head. Other guests include a filthy rich older couple Richard and Anne Leibrandt (Reed Birney and Judith Light), a has-been movie star played by John Leguizamo and his assistant (Aimee Carrero), three young and morally bankrupt investors (Mark St. Cyr, Arturo Castro, and Rob Yang), and, lastly, pretentious food-critic Lilian (Janet McTeer) and her editor, Ted (Paul Adelstein). 

As they arrive at the remote island, Chef’s maître d’, Elsa, notes how Margot wasn’t on the original guest list, before giving everyone a tour of the location. We learn that all of the restaurant’s staff live and sleep in Barack-style accommodations.

The cultish nature surrounding this mysterious culinary genius becomes apparent when Elsa takes offense at the suggestion of doing anything else with her life than constantly working for him. In the minimalist dining room, things seem off, but Margot is to be the only one noticing, while Tyler is enthralled with the food served.

Chef Slowik serves his guests a breadboard without bread, tells them gruesome stories about stabbing his stepfather, and prints his guests’ secrets on fajita wraps. With every dish served, the night becomes more terrifying, and it soon becomes clear that Chef Slowik’s plans for the guests have little to do with their taste buds. 

The Menu is deliciously savage in its portrayal of a world-renowned chef that lost his passion for the craft after his cooking became little more than a way for the elite to show status. After years of catering exclusively to the wealthy, he decides to punish them for… well, for being wealthy and out of touch, while he is also wealthy and out of touch.

There’s a beautiful hypocrisy in the way Chef Slowik acts superior to his guest, as he proves that he’s anything but. Ralph Fiennes plays the part of a deranged chef who’s been ingesting his own hype for too long to perfection. 

Is The Menu good?

Each character is written as a mere caricatured version of the out-of-touch and it’s all too easy to agree with the punishment the chef and his team decide they deserve. The regulars, Richard and Anne don’t even pay attention to the meals they spend thousands to ingest. The washed-out actor is, just like Chef Slowik, an artist who sold his talent for money.

Lilian, the food critic, used her sense of self-importance to raise some chefs to the top while destroying others’ livelihoods. The three young investors work for the company that now owns Slowik’s restaurant. And then there’s Tyler whose fanaticism ultimately takes all the joy out of eating. He’s just too obsessed with understanding the “how” instead of enjoying the art for its own sake. 

As it’s impossible to like or care for any of the guests, the audience is left with girl-next-door Margot portrayed perfectly by Anya Taylor-Joy. She’s Tyler’s date and the only one who sees the absurdity behind this fancy meal no everyday human could afford, making her the only character left for the average viewer to relate to.

Margot, however, is a sex worker. Next to the cult-leader chef and his extremely privileged guests, the prostitute becomes the only morally sound character and the one person audiences can root for. That says a lot, not just about the overpriced fine dining industry, but also about the society we all partake in. 

There’s a lot to like about The Menu. Unhinged with its “eat the rich” metaphor, the film is dark and funny and the actors, particularly the leads, give top-notch performances. This is the type of film worth watching over and over again, only to peel apart more hidden layers each time. 

10 Movies like The Menu you must watch

Parasite (2019)

2019’s Best Picture winner is the ultimate social satire in recent memory. Much like The Menu, the less you know going in, the better. Directed by Bong Joon Ho, it follows the low-income Kim family as they try to upend the social differences in South Korea by infiltrating the Parks, a wealthy family that looks over the shoulders of everyone around them.

Fresh (2022)

Mimi Cave’s directorial debut follows Daisy Edgar-Jones’ Noa, who, tired of modern dating rules, meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) in a grocery store and gives him her number. After a few dates together, and against Noa’s friend’s advice, the two of them go on a weekend getaway, where she finds out about Steve’s darkest secret.

A step up from The Menu‘s thriller aspect and a step down from its satire themes, Fresh‘s trailer already hints that a food-related twist is coming as the second act starts, but you’ll have to watch it to find out what it is exactly.

Get Out (2017)

Fresh‘s plot synopsis might be reminiscent of another, critically acclaimed movie from recent years. Jordan Peele’s feature directorial debut, which earned him a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, and nominations for Best Director and Best Picture, was one of the most talked-about movies of 2017. Heavily inspired by Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but with a dark twist in store, it follows Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris, who is meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. He is quite worried, though, over Rose (Allison Williams) telling his white family she is dating a Black man.

It leans on the thriller side as much as Fresh does, and raises to the levels of social satire that The Menu deals with, essentially becoming the best of both worlds.

American Psycho (2000)

Staying in the world of thrillers with crime elements heavily featured in the plot, American Psycho features one of Christian Bale’s most iconic performances. He plays Patrick Bateman, an investment banker by day and a serial killer by night, who in the film goes down and down the rabbit hole created by his own madness. A reminder that everyone has a darker side to them, American Psycho may not share a lot of common ground with The Menu, besides heavily criticizing the upper class and weaving in certain thriller elements, but it is a fascinating 100-minute watch.

Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Going back now to proper social satires, Triangle of Sadness is last year’s Palm d’Or winner by director Ruben Östlund. It follows a group of rich, young people on a vacation together aboard a yacht, where they will look over the shoulders of the employees and try to survive all sorts of challenges that come their way in the middle of the water. It is arguably one of 2022’s most similar movies to The Menu, as it heavily criticizes the rich’s habits and overall ignorance of whatever is going on around them.

Modern Times (1936)

We are completely changing tunes with this one, but if we are to talk about dark, satirical comedies, we have to go back to the beginning and mention Charlie Chaplin’s iconic take on the Great Depression and how the industrialized world got rid of the middle class, while still benefitting the rich. Besides its many commentaries on the times it was made in, it also was the last time Chaplin played his recognizable character, the Tramp, and it was the first time we heard the actor’s voice on film too.

The Platform (2019)

Another non-English-language film on the list, this Spanish science fiction film from director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia is set inside a vertical prison where each cell is on a different level. The premise is simple. Food is passed down from cell to cell, and prisoners have two minutes a day to eat, which means that people on the upper floors will have plenty to choose from while leaving the scraps for people on the lowest floors.

The arguably too-in-the-nose metaphor is handled beautifully by the film, which, much like The Menu, heavily criticizes the rich’s way of thinking about everyone beneath their status, and also puts food at the very center of the story.

Boiling Point (2021)

Philip Barantini’s anxiety-inducing thriller follows Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) as the head chef of a restaurant during a high-pressure evening that starts with a disappointing Health and Safety rating and includes a wedding proposal and a visit by a food critic. Filmed in one single shot, it makes the penultimate episode of The Bear feel like a children’s game. It may not hold a lot of thematic similarities with The Menu, but it definitely explores at length what it takes to run a restaurant.

Chef (2014)

Going back to more dialed-down, restaurant-related films, Jon Favreau’s last film before going to work for Disney is a sweet story about a chef who was forced to start from scratch operating a food truck after being fired from the restaurant he was working. The large ensemble includes Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, and Oliver Platt, among others. Favreau wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Chef in between high-budget films, in an attempt to go back to the basics of what he loved about filmmaking.

Bones and All (2022)

If we are talking about social commentaries that involve eating human flesh, we really can’t ignore Luca Guadagnino’s latest endeavor. Bones and All is an absolute masterclass of writing and directing, and the ultimate example of a movie pulling off gruesome sequences that will stay with you for a long time with some of the most emotional and human moments that films had to offer in 2022. It stars Luca Guadagnino and Taylor Russell in the lead roles, but also includes an iconic performance from Mark Rylance.

What did you think of the film The Menu? Comment below.

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