Film Review: The Menu
Director: Mark Mylod
Hyperobject Industries and Gary Sanchez Productions
In Theaters: 11.18
Like a great movie, a great meal thrives on presentation. Both are marked by finely crafted details, artistic touches and a commitment to making each moment memorable. Still, both require substance in order to be truly successful. The intriguing new horror comedy The Menu serves up a rich, exquisite premise with plenty of flavor, yet the meal feels frustratingly undercooked.
The Menu begins with a newly dating young couple, Margot (Anya-Taylor Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), arriving at a private island where Tyler has secured an invitation to an exclusive dinner at a posh restaurant run by the world renowned Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). While Tyler is overflowing with excitement for this foodie’s paradise, Margot doesn’t feel particularly comfortable among the who’s who of elite dinner guests, which include businessmen, a food critic and a movie star. As the evening progresses and Chef Slowik conducts the event like a true showman, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is no ordinary dinner. As Slowik assumes the “I suppose you’re all wondering why I invited you here this evening” demeanor, his true reasons for hand picking each guest are revealed. Margot is trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time with a group of characters who are decidedly less savory than the food they are being served, and Slowik is a bonafide madman with a deadly agenda.
The Menu is bolstered by a wickedly entertaining, dark and humorous tone. Television director Mark Mylod (Game of Thrones, Shameless) brings a near-perfect sense of pacing and mounting suspense. First-time screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, who have both written prolifically for The Onion, deliver delicious dialogue.
While this frequently clever, involving film had me savoring each bite, the ambitious concoction simply has a bit too much on its plate to swallow it all. While skewering the self-important one percent and meticulously mocking the kind of people who use terms like “mouth feel” has undeniable appeal, there’s a lot of ill-conceived self-contradiction undermining it all. Any time the rich and pretentious try to make a pretentious satire about the rich, there’s an awkward lack of self awareness. While this macabre class system commentary has a spicy richness, the finale doesn’t make much sense. The moment The Menu is over, the ridiculous contrivances and the sheer number of half-baked, contradictory plot elements leave one with indigestion. As the credits began to roll and I was stewing over how a film with so much going for it managed to leave me wanting for so much, I read the words “produced by Adam McKay” and suddenly understood what went wrong. The creator of Don’t Look Up! and Winning Time, king of in-your-face, self-satisfied satire. MacKay’s trademark, “too much is never enough” style is all over The Menu. When it comes to making me feel entertained, and even agreeing with much of what is being said, yet still never truly satisfied with the manner in which something was presented, nobody has a more consistent track record than McKay.
On a brighter note, the cast is terrific, with Fiennes giving his most commanding and unnerving performance in years. He creates a memorable character who is layered while keeping enough distance to leave us mesmerized, wondering what exactly is going on inside his head. If Fiennes is a great antagonist, Taylor-Joy’s mysterious protagonist is a perfect match; it’s easily her best big-screen role in a while. Hoult gets the lion’s share of the laughs, and John Leguizamo as the unnamed Movie Star brings more to his characterization than it deserves, which is something I’ve come to expect from him.
The Menu is intriguing entertainment as long as you don’t hold the machinations of the plot up to too much scrutiny. It’s an uneasy mix of smart and stupid, and whether the obvious, gaping holes left by unanswered questions add to the experience or make it insufferable will vary depending on individual palates. –Patrick Gibbs