In the latest entry into the apparent new subgenre of entertainment affectionately if tentatively labeled as ‘Rich People Suck’, Mark Mylod’s The Menu is a whirring melting pot of caricatures blanketed with pitch black humour. What it’s trying to ‘say’, if anything beyond the aforementioned label, is not exactly apparent on reflection, but you’ll be damned if you don’t have a fantastic squirmy time with some of Hollywood’s brightest young and esteemed talents.
On the back of The White Lotus and Triangle of Sadness, what The Menu brings to the party is a deliciously sardonic take on elitism via the world of fine dining. It is a symphony of horrible people appearing hard done by and conducted masterfully and typically by reliable heavyweight Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik – a man so disenfranchised with his clientele, that it has driven him to dramatic measures. There is a contradiction to his madness, though, as his style and method surely only appeal to a certain type of asshole in the first instance. However, if they are ultimately the only limited sect ever fortunate enough to trial your laboured creative output, one can understand where weariness is bred and, indeed, the desire to figuratively burn it all to the ground.
It’s easy enough to make the case that Slowik is really no better than any of the diners he spites, but that seems to be the point. They are essentially locked in a room to succumb to each other over the course of 107 minutes – each table and each course representing a social stereotype. Then, to watch them riff and bounce off each other to the point of absurdity, for the most part, is…*a chef’s kiss*. Told via the course menu itself, the film literally breaks down chapter by chapter, as the unknowing (or are they?) guests attempt to achieve some sort of untold status for their visit to Slowik’s Hawthorn – an exclusive and regimented island restaurant to which one is bound until the culinary experience is concluded. Quite literally, the boat doesn’t come back.
Absconding from lampoonable characterisation and adding an element of mystery as to the why of it all is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot – the last-minute plus one to Nicholas Hoult’s absolutely unbearable Tyler. It is evident that she doesn’t belong, and as Slowik’s light is almost immediately shone on her, she quickly becomes a fly in the ointment or as Slowik would come to describe her, ‘an ingredient that ruins the recipe’ (or something to that effect). The relationship between the pair of them is the most interesting dynamic the film has going for it. He is a genius, no doubt, if a psychopath, and for her misstep in coming to Hawthorn at all, he has no reason to have disdain for her in the same way he has his willing guests. They have already made their choices. That’s why they’re there in the first place. Margot, on the other hand, has no reason to be there other than she was dragged along for appearances. Once Slowik recognises this, he both invites her in and gives her the option to leave, respecting her seeming innocence amidst all the insanity that is compoundedly unfolding around her.
What then plays out with Margot as the centerpiece is at once compelling, sometimes shocking, and never ever dull. The supporting cast that features the always terrific Hong Chau, an in-form John Leguizamo, the ever-welcome Janet McTeer, and a perfectly cast Judith Light makes for a hilarious, sinister eat-the-rich cocktail of sardonicism and blood-soaked glee.
The Menu is now available for streaming on HBO Max and available on the linear channel