Dept. of Michelin Madness
We’ve all wanted to do this right? Surely it is our deepest, darkest desire to gather all the people we dislike – those who have ignored us, ghosted us, wronged us, those who have detestable personalities and faces to match – put them in a room together, and make them suffer. Now we can’t actually do it. Because of laws, and morality, and that sort of thing. But we can enjoy it vicariously through The Menu.
Mark Mylod’s black and bloody comedy begins with a gathering of all the people we love to hate. They are: the rich, obsessive foodie who craves recognition, three tech bros, a smug food critic and her servile editor, a has-been movie star and his long suffering assistant, and an oblivious older couple whose only virtue lies in the fact that they’re rich. The lot of them have secured a $1250 apiece reservation at an exclusive restaurant on a private island, headed by the renowned Chef Slowik. Among them, is Margot, a last minute addition, and the only person who doesn’t really belong.
It is an incredibly odd grouping of people. There are clearly secrets here to be revealed, and as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Chef Slowik has designed a deadly menu in order to bring all of them to light.
The Menu can best be described as an elevated revenge thriller. Screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy borrow and build on popular genre tropes in order to set up their own little parable in which rich, entitled, self-satisfied assholes are finally forced to face the consequences of their actions. The structure here may be familiar, but the execution is extraordinary. The way this movie toys with your sympathies, by constantly shifting your perception of predator and prey, is nothing short of genius. At no point in this movie can you pick a side to root for. While you may feel sorry for Slowik’s plight, you also connect a little too closely with his guests to celebrate their predicament.
Not only does The Menu dish out its revelations in a careful and clever way, it also escalates the action to a point of blissful discomfort for the audience. It forces us to confront our own weaknesses and shortcomings by holding up a mirror to our own bad behaviour. How many times have we made an unnecessarily critical comment at a restaurant for the sake of being performative? Do we just eat our food, or do we actually taste it? Are we aware of our own pretensions?
The biggest question, however, lies with Slowik himself. What does it mean to live a life of servitude? As a chef, or a filmmaker, or an artist, as a social media influencer, as someone whose vocational value is reliant on the acceptance and approval of others, how does that affect your self worth in the long run? The Menu addresses all of this with great humour and just the right amount of horror. Granted the movie sometimes makes its point with a mallet, but all of it is pulled off with such elegance that you don’t mind being clobbered over the head with one.
Everything about The Menu is crafted with such precision – from the staging of the film, to the framing of the food, to the way every scene is blocked, to its intricate production design. All of it is built to serve your senses and drive the narrative. Mark Mylod uses the coldness of haute cuisine to create a stark and punishing environment. The restaurant itself may be beautiful to look at, but it isn’t welcoming in any way. There is no warmth here. There is no sense of comfort. There is only a forced familiarity that is disguised as good service.
Every performance in this movie is breathtaking. These are all dazzlingly hateful characters, but they are played with such empathy that it is impossible to despise them completely. Ralph Fiennes is so broken that you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Nicholas Hoult’s selfishness will hit so close to home that it will make you question yourself. But it is Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot and her fierce survivalist energy that makes her the perfect protagonist in these proceedings. She remains and astounding screen presence and an absolute pleasure to watch.
The Menu isn’t your typical eat-the-rich revenge fantasy. Yes, there is a contempt towards entitlement that feels incredibly satisfying, but this is also a movie that takes great glee in pointing the finger right back at us for our complicity in it.
Be honest now. Even after everything is said and done, how many of you would still jump at the chance to go to that island and experience Slowik’s cuisine in all of its glory?
Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum’s cooking, Bahir’s fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn’t forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.
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