(Written by Allison Brown)
The Menu is a deliciously refined social satire that reveals the darkest nature and most shallow attributes of the elite class. With involvement from Adam McKay, who directed one of my favorites from last year, Don’t Look Up, I knew this film would be a biting attack on ego. Sarcasm is delicately folded into each exchange between dining staff and guests. I very much enjoyed it, but I do wish there were more beyond the surface level to uncover. Each course of the menu works to rehash or foreshadow the plot, but a grander incorporation of metaphors may have provided layers to strengthen the film’s takeaways. General audiences will eat up every moment, while analytical viewers may be left hoping for more. Nevertheless, the comedy and horror elements are overly sufficient to make for a great time at the movies.
Twelve customers have been booked at $1,250 a head to privately feast on the culinary delights of Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Slowik is “not just a chef—he’s a storyteller,” weaving a parable or anecdote into the presentation of every course. He precisely serves the right amount of food so one doesn’t become stuffed. Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) are a seemingly noncommittal couple. Tyler is a fanboy of Slowik, and lingers on his every word and prepared morsel, while smoker Margot is just along for the ride. This lack of defined chemistry becomes obvious when we learn that Margot is a last-minute replacement for Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, and their relationship must be very new. John Leguizamo plays a has-been unnamed movie star dining with his privileged assistant, Felicity (Aimee Carrero), who plans on moving on to a better job. Anne (Judith Light) and Richard, played by Reed Birney from 2021’s critically acclaimed Mass, are a troubled older couple returning to dine for the twelfth time. Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and Ted (Paul Adelstein) are pretentious food critics who endeavor to provide some complex meaning behind every dish, as well as point out its faults. Their addition feels very meta and targeted to myself and future critics analyzing this film. Three shady and manipulative businessmen, Soren (Arturo Castro), Bryce (Rob Yang), and Dave (Mark St. Cyr), think they can get their way no matter what because of who they are. And finally, Slowik’s mother provides comic relief in the background as a slowly spiraling drunk.
The one caveat to this exquisite opportunity? They must rely on Chef’s team to transport them to the secluded Hawthorne Island to dine. This landmass also just so happens to be 12 acres in size; highlighting a consistent motif in the number 12, which ironically has a significant place in the Bible. The staff all coincidentally live on the island, in very tight quarters I might add, and all the ingredients are grown or raised on site. It is very much the definition of farm-to-table. Each day starts at 6AM, and dinner service is over four hours long, ending at 2AM. Those who commit to working for Slowik essentially hand over their entire lives. This remote location unfortunately lacks cell service and any means to communicate with the outside world. Instead, the cuisine is at the forefront, and the menu, as well as the diners, have been carefully curated for a night of delectable perfection. There is a careful balance between those who give and those who take. What could go wrong?
The cast is outstanding, and each grouping gets a fair portion of screen time. After finally catching The Whale over the weekend, I was excited to see the return of a fantastic actress I was previously unfamiliar with, Hong Chau. She is equally snarky and sarcastic playing hostess Elsa as she was playing sister-in-law Liz. Ironically, The Whale and The Menu were my two most anticipated films from Toronto, and I still managed to see them both on the same week outside of the festival. The most obvious draw of the film and one of my favorite actresses, Anya Taylor-Joy, is at her best as lead Margot. Her unique charisma and charm come through while steering the audience through the narrative. I was also thrilled to see Aimee Carrero in the cast, who carries her own among the movie star heavyweights. I was a big fan of hers from Young & Hungry, so it is great to see her booked for bigger feature roles.
The Menu may not be a profound film, but it is one hell of a time. A breadless bread plate denoting that bread is a food of the peasants and served with only “savory accompaniments” is a peak comedic moment. No one gets off scot-free by the conclusion. Sexual harassment, financial assistance for the restaurant industry during the pandemic, and lack of satisfaction in one’s career over time are all touched upon in an evocative way.
The Menu serves up one’s demise when it comes to theaters on November 18th.
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