The Menu - a curious epicurial horror
4 out of 5
For those of you who know me, I'm not into "Fine Dining". I've never got the whole morsel on a plate, or worse, "foam on a rock". I'm more of a cheeseburger kinda gal. Who knew I had so much in common with one of the lead characters in director Mark Mylod's latest film "The Menu". I'll confess to not knowing much of Mylod's work other than knowing he directed some episodes of Game of Thrones. I knew less about the film he is directing and I enjoyed it all the more for that reason. So no spoilers here.
The Menu begins with a newly dating young couple, Margot (Anya-Taylor Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), arriving at a private island where Tyler has secured an invitation to an exclusive dinner at a posh restaurant run by the world renowned Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). While Tyler is overflowing with excitement for this foodie’s paradise, Margot doesn’t feel particularly comfortable among the who’s who of elite dinner guests, which include tech businessmen, a food critic, a politician and a movie star. As the evening progresses and Chef Slowik conducts the event like a true showman, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is no ordinary dinner. As Slowik assumes the “I suppose you’re all wondering why I invited you here this evening” demeanor, his true reasons for hand picking each guest are revealed. Margot is trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time with a group of characters who are decidedly less savoury than the food they are being served, and Slowik is a bonafide madman with a deadly agenda.
The cast is terrific, with Fiennes giving his most commanding and unnerving performance in years. He creates a memorable character who is layered while keeping enough distance to leave us mesmerised, wondering what exactly is going on inside his head. If Fiennes is a great antagonist, Taylor-Joy’s mysterious protagonist is a perfect match; it’s easily her best big-screen role in a while. Hoult gets the lion’s share of the laughs, and John Leguizamo as the unnamed Movie Star brings more to his characterisation than it deserves, which is something I’ve come to expect from him.
With a script by first-time screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, who have both written prolifically for The Onion, The Menu delivers delicious dialogue. Overall, the film is an intriguing entertainment as long as you don’t hold the machinations of the plot up to too much scrutiny. It’s an uneasy mix of smart and stupid, and whether the obvious, gaping holes left by unanswered questions add to the experience or make it insufferable will vary depending on individual palates. I enjoyed its originality and honestly had no idea how it was going to end which is what elevated it above a three-star film for me.
It's quirky, it's different and for that, enjoyable. The social commentary elements fall flat but I've come to expect that from producer Adam McKay. The creator of Don’t Look Up! and Winning Time, king of in-your-face, self-satisfied satire. McKay’s trademark, “too much is never enough” style is all over The Menu. When it comes to making me feel entertained, and even agreeing with much of what is being said, yet still never truly satisfied with the manner in which something was presented, nobody has a more consistent track record than McKay.