Review: 'The Menu' - Mark Mylod Serves Up a Deliciously Dark Satire
by Alex Billington
November 16, 2022
Order up!! This is my kind of delicious, spicy, brutal takedown satire. I knew I'd love it, at least I expected I might, so it was quite satisfying to discover that it lived up to my hopes. I'm glad cinema is serving up more and more films every year about how disgustingly awful rich people are. Yes, Parasite won Best Picture and that was a watershed moment, but more films like this are needed to shift society away from the obsession with thinking rich people are good people, and oh so successful and admirable. The Menu is yet another film like this, complimenting the three-course meal also offered up in Ruben Östlund's Palme d'or winner Triangle of Sadness earlier this year. Both of these films are wickedly hilarious, smart, bold films providing cathartic opportunities to make fun of and tear down and take out the wealthy trash. The Menu is about an extremely fancy dinner served on a private island at a restaurant that only serves 12 people per night. This night, the award-winning chef who runs it has had enough, and will be serving the 12 diners their final meal.
I really loved this film. Yes, I will certainty admit that it's totally my kind of eat-the-rich film, right up my alley so to say. But it also delivered, in every sense, the kind of meal I was hoping for and ended in just the right way. I am certain that some critics will hate this film because it's so direct – can you handle the harsh truth without it being *ahem* sugar-coated? Or will you run away like most of the dinner guests try to do? Sometimes we all must sit and have a meal together and be told we're actually the asshole. And I very much appreciate how it's a delicious takedown of fancy food culture - obsessing over micro-crap this and that, and tiny portions of whatever is fancy and expensive, while not really realizing food is about having a satisfying, tasty, wholesome meal. I could go on and on about how much I think this film rules, but I also think there's much to be gleaned by analyzing the different response to the film. Not everyone will be into the humor, which is very dark and ruthless, based around mocking the high cuisine, gourmet restaurant world and its patrons. I was cackling throughout, but, of course, some viewers won't be amused by any of this. Oh well…
Directed by British filmmaker Mark Mylod (Ali G Indahouse , The Big White, What's Your Number?), with a screenplay from Seth Reiss ("Late Night with Seth Meyers") and Will Tracy ("Succession", "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver"), the film follows a young couple out for a once-in-a-lifetime dinner experience at a restaurant known as Hawthorne. It costs over a thousand per diner, including wine pairings and a lavish molecular gastronomy menu customized by the chef and his whims. "Food is treated as conceptual art" at Hawthorne, but the chef has something very special planned for this evening. The whole show is run by Chef Slowik, played with perfect nuance by Ralph Fiennes, who initially seems to be an uptight, perfectionist in the kitchen - commanding his army of sous chef minions to follow his exact orders and say nothing but "yes, chef!" all night long. Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult star as the two main diners the story follows, along with other guests including John Leguizamo as a famous actor with his assistant, Janet McTeer as a famous food critic dining with her colleague, a group of three dumb tech bros, and a wealthy older couple.
The more I marinate on this, I believe The Menu is the ultimate Rorschach test film. If you don't like it, why, exactly? That's the test wit this one – what is someone seeing in this cinema blot that makes them dislike it. This analysis is worthwhile, as much as it's worth digging into the point the film is making. Perhaps some don't like it because it's too direct and lacks subtext? It just is pure text – obvious dialogue about how bad rich people are – which isn't really that much of an actual issue when society is still dominated by greed and narcissism and opulence. Or maybe because you see yourself in it? You're one of the guests there? Or maybe you just squirm and get all upset that a film dares to condemn the people that are actually ruining the world, and how dare they. How could they! Though one might wonder – which they? But all these responses speak more about the viewer than they do the film. It's a very well made, cleverly shot, and stylish film with great performances so there isn't anything to dislike in this regard. It all comes down to how you respond to the story and what it shows and how it handles this selection of guests at this fancy fine dining establishment.
It is important to remember that this is just a movie, but it is also commenting on the real world and our interactions with each other on this planet. The ending is necessary because how else could they end this, you can't let them all get away. There need to be repercussions for their impropriety and thankfully movies can do what the real world cannot. Some may be upset by this, but that's their issue, getting upset at the film doesn't achieve much. I very much enjoy how much the film dips into harsh yet tasty commentary on haute cuisine food culture, with the finale representing the truth of how fancy food is bullshit and a simple, good meal is often more important than all the special deconstructed dishes that overpaid chefs enjoy coming up with. This is the same idea in Ratatouille, with Remy being the one who reminds everyone that comfort food sometimes is the best food. Similarly in The Menu, this idea is wrapped in the wholesome warmth of a script that also reminds us there are people who waste their money on this fancy food crap and they're complicit in sullying modern food culture, too. Don't waste any of your money on overpriced fancy food, no matter what.
The satisfaction one can get from watching a film that carefully and intelligently tears down, tears open, and skewers rich people is incomparable. Mark Mylod's The Menu is a sly, extra sharp satire that isn't afraid of offering us some dry-aged humor in addition to all the commentary on haute cuisine and wealthy idiocy. It won't change the world, of course, but it isn't trying to – it just wants us to walk away feeling satisfied that a film dared to tell a story like this. And perhaps remind us to enjoy our food, because this keeps us grounded. It's a reminder that we all must eat, and eating well doesn't necessarily mean paying higher prices. Some of you will laugh more than others at this film, some of you will be disgusted, too. That's the nature of food – not everyone has the same taste. But no matter how it's presented or the ingredients chosen, I think we can all appreciate a film that offers us some cathartic pleasure and succeeds exquisitely in doing so. Now only if I could have Chef Slowik prepare some of my favorite dishes, too, that would make this the perfect evening.