Director Mark Mylod
Screenplay Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, Aimee Carrero, Paul Adelstein
The trick to enjoying The Menu is detesting pretense. The first act of the movie is filled with it. A collection of dignified “diners” take a boat trip to an Island to the Hawthorne, which is a high end restaurant of a celebrity Chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes). They are expecting a cereberal as well as complex series of courses meant to satisfy their ego as more than their palates.
One of the diners, Tyler (Hoult) has brought along a last minute replacement to his original date. Margo Mills (Taylor-Joy) has a secret that ties her to one of the other guests, but is also obviously out of place for the careful orchestration of the menu to come. She stands out for more than a few reasons. One of which is her unwillingness to eat during the first few courses.
Viewing the rest of the diners, we have an actor and his assistant (Leguizamo and Carrero), a food critic and her magazine editor (McTeer and Adelstein), a wealthy businessman and his wife who have been to the restaurant many times (Birney, Light) and a trio of tech business executives. They all believe they are in for the experience worthy of their admission price. What they pay for the experience of The Menu will cost them dearly.
The acting of The Menu is completely on point. Each character carries their conceit in different ways, but berore the second course we’re already decidng which ones we’d like to see misery befall and in what order. One of the best examples of this is with Hoult’s Tyler. What at first seems to be nothing more than a foodie fanboy shows to be a somewhat deeper psychosis. And he’s one of the normal people.
The staff of The Hawthorne are another breed entirely. It’s clear that to a person the staff are dedicated to their craft, and their cynicism for their patrons. Chou delivers a delicious performance as restaurant maitre d’ and general enforcer. Her lines are laced with double meaning. At first the viewer think she might be joking. This hope is disabused almost as soon as the diners meet Slowik.
As the Chef, Fiennes puts in his best performance in literally decades. His Chef evokes so many emotions that it puts his immense acting skills to the utmost test. There is not a word that goes by that is not given a reaction subtle enough to be missed by the very type of person who imagine it to be his Chefly privilege to serve them. The audience is also given the privilege of seeing the course cards brimming with sarcasm that grows into ridicule by the end.
Taylor-Joy is the perfect foil to Fiennes obsession with technique which becomes his obvious break. The viewer can at once feel kinship to the working staff of The Hawthorne but we also can see the complete insanity from course one, as Margot expresses. She is blunt and wise enough to not try to fit within the confines of the front of the kitchen or the back. To see her go up against the staff is a delight. She bides her time by necessity but never loses her ability to assess the situation.
This movie will not work for everyone. In our party we were evenly split. Even with the tongue firmly in cheek, there will be some who step away from the film viewing only what they see, but not why they see it. It’s something similar to the idea of eating rather than tasting.
(**** out of *****)