Released 2022. Director: Mark Mylod
LOCATED ON A PRIVATE ISLAND WITH ITS OWN BOAT SERVICE is a top-tier fine-dining venue so exclusive, there’s only seating for twelve. Tonight, the lucky dozen will get to taste an exquisitely crafted menu to die for, which is no exaggeration, as there’ll be nobody left alive if all goes to plan.
The Menu centres on a multi-course dining experience prepared by celebrity chef Julian Slowik, who enjoys the kind of cult status in the culinary world to compel awe and disdain in equal measure. His dishes are prepared with each individual diner in mind, including a restaurant critic, a movie star, a wealthy couple, a trio of upstart entrepreneurs and an obsequious super-fan, whose last-minute replacement of his date upsets Slowik’s meticulously planned evening. The chef has a bone to pick with each of them, and his method is extreme.
Slowik’s team in the kitchen work with military precision on their creation of haute cuisine. Each course is introduced with a thunderous clap, then Slowik explains what they’re about to taste, which, as befitting top-dollar fine dining, resembles art on a plate.
Oohs and ahhs greet the arrival of the dishes, as the diners luxuriate in their moneyed privilege to dine in such high order, until Slowik serves a bread plate without bread, just a few drops of the dipping. Some of the diners mumble and complain, even dare to ask for some carb but are, without surprise, politely rebuffed. You eat what the chef wants you to eat. That’s how it works.
This is the moment the diners feel something isn’t going right but there's no escape. Self-appointed arbiter of justice, Slowik is going to teach everyone a lesson through humiliation, mutilation, murder and of course, the best food with a delicate flavour profile. “It’s all on the menu,” he assures the increasingly worried diners, even when the sous chef blows his head off right there, blood splatters and wiped clean immediately like wine spills.
Ralph Fiennes is quietly menacing as a man at the top of his game who has nonetheless lost his joy at work. He has a list of people to blame, including the owner of the restaurant (whose execution is witnessed by the diners), the financiers, the restaurant critic who “destroys careers”, the wealthy couple who has no appreciation for his craft (but keep returning to pay top dollar anyway) and an actor the chef has a grudge against.
I can understand the direct correlation between the chef's work and the other diners, but the punishment singled out for the actor is particularly interesting. Years ago the chef saw a movie he didn’t like and he has never forgotten the actor who wasted his precious time on his only day off.
Imagine if we could all somehow punish actors in movies we don’t like, we’d be quite busy. What if we turned the situation around and allowed actors to punish audiences who talk, use their phone or just generally do not pay attention, especially for stage actors at a live performance? Why doesn’t the chef blame himself for making a poor choice? Nobody forced him to see that movie.
The choice of retaliation here is a reflection of the breathtaking arrogance of some people, in whatever field of profession, engrossed in their own self-importance. It’s fine to take what you do so very seriously. It’s something else when you go out of your way to abuse people for not sharing the same level of enthusiasm, for sullying your singular, uncompromising vision, for wasting your time.
The Menu mocks people like Slowik and you might think a character like this is an extreme fictionalisation. Neverheless -- bear with me as I digress -- I’ve come across a restaurateur who lamented that diners to her fine dining establishment lack knowledge and refinement. Her solution was to hold “classes” to teach us plebians how to behave, and charge us a fortune for the privilege. I’m not kidding.
The screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy is a social satire aimed at creators and consumers in the commercialisation of “art”. Besides the chef, The Menu also raps on the money boys, foodies, the rich and the pretentious.
After the last dish and a particularly satisfying bite of a regular cheeseburger, The Menu leaves an aftertaste to savour in the various questions raised along the way. For instance, what does Slowik see in Margot, the unexpected diner who dares to challenge him? What do we make of the fact that all the men run away the first chance they get, leaving dates, girlfriends and wives behind? And does Slowik’s mother, sitting alone in a corner partaking in the holy mess with grim acceptance, know what’s about to happen?
There’s much to chew on in this consistently interesting and entertaining mock 'em, skewer 'em, kill 'em dark comedy thriller, which also stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, Janet McTeer and Hong Chau as the unflappable maitre 'd. Bon Appetit.
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