The Menu: The rich are the main course in this satirical thriller
The Menu screening provided by Disney
“The Menu proposes that sometimes you need to take action against the system in order to truly liberate yourself from its clutches”
There’s a certain delight in seeing snobby, rich people get torn apart onscreen. Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness did so in the context of a cruise-gone-wrong earlier this year, and Mark Mylod does the same thing in this satirical food thriller, The Menu. Of course, criticising anything borderline elitist is like opening a never ending toybox with countless toys to play with, and that’s where the fun and games of these films lies.
Even so, the best satirical films like The Square (2017), M*A*S*H (1970), the Anchorman films, and Tropic Thunder (2008) know how to go beyond merely bashing and beating that which they criticise, and offering something that keeps you guessing throughout. The Menu is one of those films that’s filled with twists and turns that, for what it’s worth, aren’t exactly striking, but are well executed that when they do land, they hit like a satiating dose of your favourite meal.
Written by Onion contributors Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, The Menu, like the carefully curated dining experience that takes place, is structured to surprise and throw you off course. It’s set on an island where the fictional Hawthorne, an exclusive and expensive restaurant, welcomes the finest food connoisseurs and everyone wealthy in-between. The carefully selected group that indulge in the experience this time around consist of three finance dudes (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang); a food critic (Ozark’s Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein); a movie star (John Leguizamo) and his assistant (Aimee Carrero); restaurant regulars (Reed Birney and Judith Light); and food lover Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy).
The heart of the film is Margot, someone that doesn’t really care for all the hype and glitz of evening, and saunters by on her indifference. This is much to the dismay of Hawthorne head chef Julian Slowik (a Ralph Fiennes who feels right at home), someone who prides himself on perfection and preparedness. He’s also easily the film’s most intriguing character with his stern facial expressions and soul searching gaze that mirrors the likes of Marco Pierre White.
More than that, he’s also set on making a truly unforgettable experience for his patrons by serving up dish after dish before revealing that this is a dinner where his guests are also part of the menu. Each of the characters are exposed to each other for what they really are —some frauds, others cheaters, and the rest more or less horrible individuals— as secrets are laid bare through the various courses they consume. This is really the bedrock of the film that sees commerce (the guests) be confronted by art (Slowik) who looks to tear down the superficiality that has consumed him and his profession, and continues to do so.
That’s about as complicated as The Menu gets. Unlike one of last year’s best films, Pig (2021), which in part explored how forgoing your dreams by settling in the face of capitalism causes you to lose sight of what is truly important to you, The Menu proposes that sometimes you need to take action against the system in order to truly liberate yourself from its clutches.
Whether or not you buy into Slowik’s method for madness and heavy handedness is another matter. The enjoyment from Mylod’s film comes from the simmering tension of its first half; characters are still unaware of the true details of the evening, and there is a curiosity to see at what point this ‘hell’s kitchen’ turns into hell. By the films second half, much has been said and not left to the imagination except for Slowik’s own history and the point at which his disdain led him to such drastic measures.
While Slowik’s past isn’t exactly a must-know, context ultimately shapes content and gives one a greater insight into why characters act out, especially those that are more akin to anti-heroes. But regardless of whether you walk out feeling full or still craving more, The Menu does find a way of balancing the humour that comes with seeing entitled rich people squirm as their idealist world turns on them with the loss of identity by those fuelling their greed.
The Menu opens nationally from the 24th of November, 2022.
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