THE MENU – movie review


Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Mark Mylod
Screenwriter: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Janet McTeer
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: November 18, 2022

Mark Mylod’s dark comedy is not to éparter la bourgeoisie. This is not an indictment of capitalism. You don’t have to be super rich to dine at expensive restaurants serving haute cuisine. If you’re a ordinary guy with an office job you can treat your loved one once a year to a high-end restaurant. So what is this movie? “The Menu” is an indictment of phoniness, fakery. Think of one of the richest men in America, Warren Buffett. He still maintains his home in Omaha, Nebraska and for all we know, he doesn’t spend his $85.2 billion lavishly. He comes across as a mensch, in no way a showoff like the folks who patronize an exclusive restaurant on the fictitious Hawthorne Island. The establishment is as snobbish as you can imagine, but after seeing the extortionate food prepared by an army of chefs with an ungodly woman serving as hostess, you will long for a cheeseburger.

Why might even the posh guests at this dining emporium prefer a cheeseburger? It is honest food, more fulfilling than what costs ten times more, and we would not be surprised if, given truth serum to inject in the diners, they would have to agree. “The Menu” is directed by Mark Mylod in his first feature film (his métier has been TV episodes such as those he helmed for “Game of Thrones.”) Even more impressive than his direction is the writing by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, catapulting this film into awards-winning territory.

The customers include Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who had expected to take another woman, but after she broke off with him he invited Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). John Leguizamo is featured as a movie star, the patrons including food critics and similar albeit less pretentious members of the upper middle class. They are escorted by hostess Elsa (Hong Chau), who seems to know everything about them, as does Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). So knowledgeable are these two that when tortillas served despite the chef’s put-down of bread as the cuisine of the poor, that the corn-based bread includes drawing for each customer, presenting him or her in what is not always a favorable light. The staff, who live together in a military-style barracks, act like army personnel, shouting “yes, chef” to Slowik’s every order.

In the midst of the dinner, scheduled to last for over four hours, Chef Slowik sheds his stiff, but welcoming, friendliness for a surliness inspired by his wish for vengeance against the phonies. He will ultimately show his affection for just one guest, Margot, as the one customer who is from Nebraska and acts the part, though she shows herself the brightest, fastest-thinking person in the assemblage. Slowik may be as insecure as his patrons, though with each course he presents he uncovers yet another of their precarious states. The chef determines that this will be a night to remember, as he stands over one guest after another, digging away at their pretensions.

Festivities, then, start with the amuse bouche, segue into selections of wines, one of which the sommelier announces as possessing hints of tobacco, concluding with the dessert that the men and women are guaranteed to forget. And that’s not to criticize the sweets. The film, which embraces thrillers, whodunits, horror and most of all dark comedy, is a feast worthy of its satiric thrusts.

The episode was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, but the major part of the theatrical piece takes place almost entirely within the restaurant. “The Menu” could serve on the stage as well. Learn from this: the next time your girlfrienc has a birthday, take her to Mickey D’s.

107 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical –B
Overall – B+