TL;DR – This is one of those films that revels in subverting something that brings me great joy and captivates me the entire time it is doing that.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Warning – Some scenes may cause distress.
The Menu Review –
There is always a delight when you walk into s film with no idea what you are about to witness. Even more so when that film goes to places, you would never have expected. Well, today we have just such a film which was taken to the next level with me only seeing it because of a mix-up, and I am delighted that mix-up happened because goodness, what an experience.
So to set the scene, we open at a boat dock as Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her date Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) wait in fancy evening attire. They and a bunch of important critics, celebrities, foodies, and businessmen are taking a trip to one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants, Hawthorne, run by Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), hidden away on its own island. The restaurant’s maître d’ Elsa (Hong Chau) takes them on a tour of the island, revealing all its natural bounties and constructed eccentricities. Everything has been tailored to each guest. The only issue is that Margot was not meant to be there, and no one let the restaurant or Chef know.
The first thing that is undeniable is how much the cast makes this film work. There is a level of drive that could have easily slipped into farce had there not been a depth hand walking that narrow divide. Ralph Fiennes has an intensity that captures you even before his clap echoes across the restaurant and my soul. Anya Taylor-Joy has the unenviable job of matching that intensity at every turn, which she does. Nicholas Hoult continues his run of playing fascinating characters, and he slips into this new creation with apparent ease. The rest of the supporting cast also shines, with a special shout out to Hong Chau for commanding every moment she is in.
The next strength is the location. Most of the film takes place in one room, and there is nowhere to hide when it comes to the details. I completely believed this was a high-end restaurant in the middle of nowhere. All the most minor and pretentious details are there, from the wine glasses to the uniforms to the serving plates and more. There are foams, emulsions, gels, and all that molecular gastronomy wankery, that I never once questioned that they could appear on a menu like this. A bread plate without bread is just the kind of dish you would expect to come out of a place like this. There were a couple of moments where it did look like they were using something like the volume in the external windows that didn’t quite match the room, but they were only minor quibbles.
Now to get to the film’s heart, we need to talk about the narrative and themes, but to do that, we have to drop a [SPOILER] warning for this paragraph. As you start watching, you shift through several distinct moods that The Menu slips into. The first is that moment of wonder, like the first couple of minutes of an episode of Chef’s Table, where you are not sure what you are about to get, but you are intrigued with everything. However, as we progress, you begin to feel the world move under your feet as the film shifts into something else, like a changeling from DS9. It is here where we almost step into a parody of a Chef’s Table episode as if it took the show’s structure and deliberately removed the heart. The influence of that show has clear from watching, even before I knew that David Gelb was a second-unit director. Sitting there, I wondered where this film could be going when I wrote one of the most fortuitous notes I have ever taken in my time reviewing. Just moments before the introduction of sous-chef Jeremy Louden (Adam Aalderks), I wrote that there was a touch of malice just seconds before the film entered turbo drive, and the malice jumped from a hint to a fistful to the gut. So rarely has a movie made me elicit an excited utterance in the cinemas, but then The Menu is a film that goes places.
In the end, do we recommend The Menu? I am not sure about this. That is because this is a very particular film that will vibe with some people and repulse others. In some ways, it feels almost laser targeted towards me, which is why I can thoroughly recommend it to me, but your mileage may vary. If you liked The Menu, we would recommend to you Palm Springs.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Menu
Directed by – Mark Mylod
Written by – Seth Reiss & Will Tracy
Story by – Will Tracy
Music by – Colin Stetson
Cinematography by – Peter Deming
Edited by – Christopher Tellefsen
Production/Distribution Companies – Hyperobject Industries, Gary Sanchez Productions, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Pictures & Searchlight Pictures
Starring – Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Reed Birney, Judith Light, Paul Adelstein, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, Mark St. Cyr, Rebecca Koon, Christina Brucato, Adam Aalderks, Matthew Cornwell & Peter Grosz
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R