A delicacy best served cold, The Menu is a deliciously wicked dark comedy where sinister is savory and the death is divine. Starring Ralph Fiennes as an innovative executive chef pushed beyond his limits and Anya Taylor-Joy as one of his unsuspecting dinner guests, Mark Mylod’s culinary mystery box offers a brutal takedown of foodie culture.
If you’ve ever gone to dinner (or wine tasting) with someone who likes to savor every bite while describing the tones, textures, and flavors of their food with words that shouldn’t be used to describe food (or something you drink), then you know someone who is in The Menu’s crosshairs. The movie is a rejection of food culture, of the rich and sophisticated, of the posers who have forgotten how to just eat some fucking food and fucking enjoy it.
Taylor-Joy is a delight as ever, delivering a fierce and rebellious performance as the one person, as Fiennes’ character describes, “who shouldn’t be here.” But she’s not the main dish. Fiennes is spectacular as the villain, a chef seemingly so consumed by inventiveness that he has lost sight of reality. In what essentially boils down to a slightly comedic horror-thriller, Fiennes is a complex entree, brimming with pain, anger, sorrow, and unbridled psychosis.
The rest of the cast is also a feast. Nicholaus Hoult is hilarious as a foodie so engrossed in the experience at hand that he seems not to care as his fellow guests lose their fingers or their lives. Janet McTeer exquisitely plays a food critic obsessed with criticizing the smallest of seeming miscues. John Leguizamo plays a washed up actor–if you go in knowing he used Steven Seagal as inspiration, all the better.
Kudos must also go to Mylod and co-writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. The story unfolds in compelling fashion; for a while, you’re unsure of which direction it’s going to go or why what is happening is happening. The filmmakers never really explain why the line cooks go along with it all, but then again, in a world of celebrity chef culture, blind devotion and loyalty is a thing.
The Menu is fast paced and ruthlessly entertaining, with smart writing and sharp dialogue. Its satire, or takedown, is on the nose, but this isn’t the kind of movie where much nuance is required; in fact, it turns its nose at nuance. The cast is great, but the characters given to them are what earns The Menu its Michelin star.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.