The self-absorbed world of the rich foodie is taken to task in The Menu, a comedy/drama from Mark Mylod, producer and director of TV hit Succession.
The story takes place on Hawthorne, an island containing a restaurant so exclusive that just 12 diners at a time are shipped in, paying $1,250 a plate. Among the clientele of obnoxious critics and desperate celebrities is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), accompanying culinary geek Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) when his date drops out.
They’re all there for the latest creations from celebrated chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who promises an experience like no other with a themed menu that slowly reveals itself. However, Slowik’s contempt for his clientele emerges as the dining experience becomes something quite unexpected.
The direction of the story is pretty clear-cut, taking aim at privilege and exclusivity. The dishes become increasingly pretentious, and the tension builds nicely to the pièce de résistance, which I won’t spoil. It’s not subtle, and this type of satire has been done more elegantly recently by Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, but there is a vindictive passion to The Menu that makes it extremely watchable.
The film is masterfully cast, full of actors who nail the script’s bone-dry humour. Anya Taylor Joy adds to an increasing list of career highlights, slicing through Hoult’s Millennial pretensions (“please don’t say ‘mouth feel,’” she snaps during one of the early dishes).
Hong Chau’s front of house manager is inspired, but it’s Fiennes’ energy that ties it all together. With a natural expression that always seems scornful, he’s the perfect fit for this role. It’s a little strange to hear him with an American accent, but his heightened portrayal of artistic mania is something to behold.
The Menu could have done with slightly more nuance, but it’s a gripping black comedy that grills its characters to perfection.