The Menu: Review
A gamut of elitist socialists embarks on an exclusive dinner from world-renowned chef Julian Slowik. Julian and his dedicated team of sous chefs prepare each of the robust courses precisely, manifesting eloquent narratives about himself and the world around him through each picturesque combination of obscure ingredients. Eventually, the guests realize that the luxurious meal is more than what they bargained for in the razor-sharp comedy, The Menu.
Given society's widening economic gaps, films centered on class warfare are more commonplace than ever (Parasite, Snowpiercer, and Us are a few strong examples). Most of these features examine their economic disparities with proper dramatic gravitas, often exemplifying real-world horrors in a creative fictional landscape.
On the contrary, The Menu portrays stark social division in a farce bursting with acidic satire. The film is all the better for its risky tonal pursuits, showcasing a fierce and well-seasoned romp that never forgets its essential thematic undercurrent.
Like any well-prepared dish, each element of The Menu accents its overarching ambitions effectively. Director Mark Mylod and cinematographer Peter Deming cleverly entrench viewers in a world of luxuries through their evocative camerawork. From the opulent restaurant setting to the exquisite refinement of each dish, the film develops a dynamic sense of place that gradually devolves once the evening gets underway.
The patient set-up serves as a fitting appetizer for the comical debauchery that ensues. Screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy cultivate an engrossing narrative yarn for viewers to untangle, peppering in just enough world-building textures to develop an overwhelming sense of unease. Once the shenanigans get underway, The Menu turns into a laugh-a-minute comedy that rightfully holds its callous characters accountable for their actions. I give Reiss and Tracy significant credit for dreaming up an unrelentingly bleak black comedy that still retains an irresistible playfulness.
A dynamite supporting cast helps tremendously in personifying the film's slew of scumbags. John Leguizamo is fittingly arrogant as a washed-up actor grasping for his former glory days. Janet McTeer evokes intense menace as a smug food critic. Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr have a blast displaying a trio of business airheads, while Nicholas Hoult steals the show as an obsessive foodie who takes every chance to brag about his immense knowledge. Each socialite character wears an inauthentic facade, propping up their egos under the guise that wealth makes them inherently more complex people. In reality, these characters are prisoners of their own fantasies, ultimately struggling with superficiality and deeply-seated insecurities.
The true focus of The Menu lies with Chef Julian and Margot - a last-minute guest who comes from a decidedly different background from the rest of the crowd. Both characters share a kindred bond in their humble origins, but years of fame and acclaim have morphed Julian into a self-loathing shadow of his former glory. Star Ralph Fiennes skillfully unpeels Julian's complex layers with deprecating humor and intimate reflections. As the likable protagonist Margot, Anya Taylor-Joy also remains a magnetic force that shines onscreen through her cunning wit.
There is a self-reflexive quality that I really enjoyed about The Menu. The film manages to stir around intriguing themes, although its ambitions never come at a cost to its high-wire comedy act. Setting the film inside the illustrious realm of first-class cooking acts as a savvy way to poke fun at the self-serious narrative The Menu flirts with becoming. Instead of serving a sophisticated 5-star meal, the film is happy to provide a satisfying bite of amusing comfort food.
The Menu provides a bountiful feast of humor and craft across its engaging runtime. It's worth a watch over the holidays, especially for fans of comedies with a mystery/thriller edge.
The Menu is now playing in theaters.