Like anything else that takes itself very seriously, “foodie” culture is ripe for parody, and by its very nature it brings several other subjects in reach for easy skewering. For the most part, writers Seth Reiss (Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Onion) and Will Tracy (Succession, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) do a decent job hitting all of their desired targets, only faltering a bit at the end, when the inherent absurdity of the premise pushes things too far in a surprisingly silly direction when perhaps a bit more acidity would have been [*chef’s kiss*].
Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) brings his date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) on what seems to be their first date to exclusive restaurant Hawthorne, located on its own private island and run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Tyler is obsessed with high-end culinary culture while Margot, though happy to be along for the ride, is relatively non-plussed by the pretentiousness of it all. Also among the small group of diners that night are renowned restaurant critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein), struggling movie star George (John Leguizamo) and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero), business “bros” Soren (Arturo Castro), Bryce (Rob Yang) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr), wealthy husband and wife Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light), and Chef Julian’s mother (Rebecca Koon).
Maître d’ Elsa (Hong Chau) inquires suspiciously about Margot’s identity, as she was not originally on the guest list but is taking the place of Tyler’s previous guest who turns out to have been his ex-girlfriend, and then informs the chef of the change, causing him some consternation. But the evening must go on, so he rallies his brigade and begins the very theatrical presentation of each course, offering anecdotes and stories about them before having his team place the plates before each guest in unison. While this is a pretty spot-on spoof of the sometimes over-the-top nature of the world’s most expensive restaurants, the food still sounds delicious and is shot in beautiful close-ups. As the evening progresses dark twists begin to appear with each dish before the night takes a violent turn, and the guests have to try to deduce why they were selected for this service and how they can possibly get off of the island.
While there are a couple of suspenseful moments, that isn’t really the point here, instead The Menu is most-decidedly a very sharp and very dark comedy. In including material focused on out-of-touch elites and fragile egos it may have bitten off a bit more than it can chew, but the haute cuisine-oriented jokes serve up enough well-earned chuckles to forgive the film its indulgences. Director Mark Mylod (Succession, Shameless, Entourage) makes sure everything looks suitably opulent and the entire cast are clearly relishing playing their roles. Despite the lingering sense of menace throughout and the twisted turns the plot takes, the movie maintains a sense of fun. As with most meals, diners’ memories of the experience can be heavily swayed by the final course, so it’s a shame that it’s somewhat unsatisfying here, with a moment that should have been vicious veering too far into silliness for my taste, but this is still a menu that I would recommend trying. ★★★★
RATed r for strong / disturbing violent content, language throughout, and some sexual references.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor