The Menu (2022)

The Menu
Director: Mark Mylod
Writer: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Paul Adelstein, John Leguizamo, Aimee Carrero, Reed Birney, Judith Light, Rebecca Koon, Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr
Seen on: 25.11.2022

Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) have managed to get a table at fabled Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) exclusive island restaurant. Only 12 guests a night are served there, each menu specially crafted. Tyler is pure excitement, while Margot marvels at the decadence – and price – of the entire affair. But the people working there seem irritated that Margot is there. It appears that the evening was planned to the last detail, but Margot was not planned for. Why this is so important becomes clear when the evening starts to take a surprising turn for the guests.

The Menu is entertaining, albeit not quite as insightful as it thinks it is. That being said, it definitely has its moments and an excellent cast.

The film poster showing Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) at a table, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) behind them, his hands in a clap. Behind him are the rest of the guests and his maitre d' Elsa (Hong Chau).

I’m always here for anti-capitalist messaging and rich people getting what’s coming to them. But much like with Triangle of Sadness, The Menu thinks it delivers insghtful, incisive criticism, when it’s really quite heavy-handed and surprisingly simple in its message. In its satirizing approach, it loses sight of nuance and throws the baby out with the bathwater a little. So it happens that most of the working class people here – Chef’s staff, with the exception of Elsa (Hong Chau is amazing) – remain almost entirely characterless and faceless, while our attention remains with the rich folk. The poor are little more than drones in Chef’s mission.

Meanwhile, the guests are almost all intricately characterized. And the characters are definitely well chosen and wonderfully portrayed, each embodying a different kind of obnoxious that comes with wealth. Hoult and Leguizamo nail their roles particularly well. But they are supporting characters to the duel between Fiennes and Taylor-Joy – and what a well-matched duel that is. It is a joy to watch.

Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) talking to Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) in the kitchen.

The thing is, in the end it is a duel about nothing much, really. Slowik is fed up with rich people, and that includes his own participation in the upper class. Power and wealth corrupt. I agree. But instead of engaging meaningfully with that, the film ends on a sappy, over-simplified note: life would be so much better if things were simpler. Let’s leave the artistry of haute cuisine behind and let’s just have a burger. And nothing against burgers, but that kind of nostalgic response to societal problems isn’t really helpful. I would have hoped for a little more in a film that so obviously goes for social critique.

That being said, it is a beautifully crafted film, and well-paced and entertaining enough that watching it is always engaging and interesting. It just could have been more.

Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) watching over the arrangement of a dish in his kitchen.

Summarizing: very watchable.

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