The Menu (2022)
Director: Mark Mylod
Writers: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang, Janet McTeer
Somewhere between a hellish Ratatouille and a horror-comedy a la Ready or Not, The Menu is a potluck of familiar dishes. Though it serves sharp-witted humor on a silver platter, this 2022 Mark Mylod film is missing a piece de resistance to soothe our palettes.
The Menu unfolds over the course of a single evening when a group of ravenous big shots – and our modest protagonist Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) – arrive on a private island to indulge in a ten-course feast. Prepared by legendary chef Slowik, the meal promises to be as succulent as it is cerebral. Each course becomes increasingly deranged as Slowik unravels the true nature of the menu and the guests
The first act is a platter of expertly crafted hors d’oeuvres. Sprinkled with just enough exposition to get a sense of the ludicrous guestlist – from a pompous A-List actor (John Leguizamo) to a group of finance douche-bags (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang) to uppity critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) – the evening promises to be a pageant of extreme wealth. Each of the guests is as mysteriously conniving as they are self-indulgent.
Ralph Fiennes’ performance is delectably unpredictable. Chef Slowik’s singular, booming clap cuts the tension like a freshly sharpened kitchen knife. He bounces from the even-tempered curator of the evening to a quickly unravelling workaholic in a matter of seconds. It’s impossible to tell if Slowick’s next words will be a string of abuse (toward staff and customers alike) or the tale of his deeply troubled childhood.
Of course, the food underscores this emotional hellscape. The first course appears almost inedible. Presented on a rock from the shore nearby, the guests are served a meal that is composed of flowers, seawater, and a single scallop. This dish might be eye candy for a food aficionado, but for the less cultured public, we yearn for a scrap of real sustenance. Margot’s social media-obsessed foodie date Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) describes the chef’s craft of “dealing with the real stuff of life… and death” while Chef Slowik informs guests that they will consume “entire biomes” during their dining. The meals indicate a coldness that comes with extreme wealth. Devoid of the simple stuff we love about food, the guests revel in their intellectual superiority rather than the taste itself.
Unfortunately, after the first act, The Menu falls to pieces. While the opening 30 minutes are filled with taut, socially charged comedy, the rest of the film hinges on Margot’s journey. Anya Taylor-Joy is a Hollywood dynamo, but she is woefully misplaced in this film. After her undesirable background is revealed, Slowik wonders if the woman is meant to be a “shit shoveler” instead of a guest. Anyone with a working knowledge of pop culture or film will clock Anya Taylor-Joy as a wealthy rising star. Her perfectly combed hair and self-assured demeanor communicate old money more than the scrappy, working girl the film is hoping to portray. No leather jacket or snappy comment is able to distract from Taylor-Joy’s real-world status.
Margot functions as the unquestionable hero. Other than her tendency to mouth off (and, honestly, who could blame her?) she is presented as a confident and flaw-free character. It’s almost too easy. The rich people are caricatures, the most diabolical wealth-hoarders of all time, while Margot is the innocent outcast. For a film about consumer culture, it almost feels too consumable.
The Menu is an effective comedy and a flimsy capitalist critique. After the success of Oscar-winner Parasite, Hollywood has been eager to reproduce a self-aware, biting satire of the state of the world. Media like Triangle of Sadness and ‘The White Lotus’ point out the hypocrisy of capitalism using comedy as a vehicle. With such an ironically oversaturated market for anti-capitalist film, it’s essential that works of satire are uniquely poignant. ‘Succession’ writer Will Tracy uses The Menu to rightly assesses the danger of mindless consumption, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen in the past five years.
There’s plenty to explore in our “post” COVID capitalist society, but these critiques require a level of nuance that many feature films fail to achieve. The unfortunate reality of capitalism is that there are no pure villains or victims. In a deeply unjust system, we are all relegated to a morally gray middle space that impacts our ability to operate with compassion. Though it’s easy to yearn for a righteous protagonist who absolves us of our guilt, it is essential to marinate in the liminal space between good and evil.
The Menu is a gory, grimy look at capitalism that we have seen before and will undoubtedly see again on screen. Though its sharp voice and all-star cast make the film easy viewing for a movie lover, it falls short of a truly dynamic criticism of the world we live in.
Written by Emi Grant
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