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The Menu (A Movie Review)

THE MENU (2022)

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, Reed Birney, Paul Adelstein, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang, Rebecca Koon, Peter Grosz, Christina Brucato, Adam Aalderks, Matthew Cornwell, Rachel Trautmann, Cristian Gonzalez, John Wilkins III and Mel Fair.

Screenplay by Seth Reiss & Will Tracy.

Directed by Mark Mylod.

Distributed by Searchlight Pictures. 106 minutes. Rated R.

Reality television likes to show gourmet chefs to be short-tempered, bullying sociopaths. However, Gordon Ramsay has nothing on Chef Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes), the control-freak celebrity chef who is the culinary genius and the ruling hand behind Hawthorne – an exclusive restaurant on a deserted island in which people spend $1,250 a head to experience a seven-course meal which is created to tell a story.

However, what if that culinary tale turns violent?

This is the high concept behind The Menu, a skewering black social satire on modern food celebrity and the unctuousness of people who can afford to spend $15,000 for a meal which they probably don’t even particularly appreciate.

The Menu is alternately shocking and hysterical as it slowly develops over the course of what turns out to be a very special meal. In fact Slowik has decided that this night will be his defining moment, in which he uses his multi-course meal to play mental head games on a specially curated group of hideous people.

Of course, this hideousness is all in the eyes of the chef. Some of the people are somewhat deserving of the mistreatment – they include white collar criminals, adulterers, starfuckers, food critics and more. Others are less complicit – take for example the aging trophy wife who has just given up to a miserable life, or the critic’s lackey editor. Sometimes it is completely subjective and a bit petty, like the Hollywood has-been star who the chef has apparently targeted because he didn’t like one of his films.

And then there is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a last-minute replacement date who wasn’t even supposed to be there. Margot is not rich, she’s not a gourmand, and she seems singularly unimpressed by the food. She barely knows her date, but just could not turn down the offer of a unique evening. Margot is the wild card blocking Chef Slowik’s hand. He is not sure who she is, why she is there, or whether she is worthy of receiving the treatment of the rest of the diners.

In the meantime, Chef treats his kitchen staff like a boot camp, and the kitchen staff almost seem to have a hive mind in in his support.

As the meal slowly becomes more and more disturbing, the guests start to band together in protest. However, can they really trust each other? And whose side is Margot on?

The Menu is a slightly odd but fascinating film, a fever dream of dark comedy and dark fantasies and exposed secrets which is both cuttingly observant of human nature and skewering in its social satire.

Chef Slowik believes that a good meal should not be just food, but is should be a complete story. With The Menu, he’s cooked up one hell of a story.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: November 18, 2022.

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