Review: The Menu
Jake Avery finds that while The Menu provides high-octane moments of tension, it feels a tad undernourished in terms of emotional engagement
If you thought that being disappointed by the food at an expensive restaurant was the worst outcome of a meal, think again. The Menu stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult as Margot and Tyler, guests at an extremely luxurious high-end restaurant named Hawthorne that is spearheaded by Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik. What could sound like a relaxing, mildly tempered dinner-date movie actually reveals itself to be something much more frightening and hideous, as Slowik possesses further plans beyond the confines of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
As the title suggests, The Menu explores the pretentious and bizarre world of high-end cuisine, and manages to provide a thrilling and shocking ride into the peculiar lives of the ruling elite. A plethora of VIPs grace Fiennes’ island; no time is wasted establishing the hideousness and arrogance of the high-end elites that comprise the film’s roster. Obnoxious restaurant journalists and snarky business financiers scoff on the screen, unlikeable in just about every way conceivable, and the film pivots off the schadenfreude created when events begin to take a turn for the worse; there is something inherently satisfying about seeing the abysmal array of elitists panicking. John Leguizmo shines the most as a deliciously charismatic and hubristic actor past his time, a character that takes centre stage in the conflict with Chef Slowik. A barrage of pompous and overblown dishes are served at Hawthorne – plates of food that match the guests’ ridiculousness in a visually striking manner.
Anya Taylor-Joy provides, as expected, a captivating performance as the film’s protagonist Margot, and Nicholas Hoult’s erratic and obsessive character Tyler also serves as an effective entry point into the absurdity of the culinary world that Slowik has constructed. The obsessive and ritualistic nature of Slowik is what really propels the dynamic of the film into territory that feels unsettling – he keeps a constant chokehold on the characters and the audience; under the direction of acclaimed Succession director Mark Mylod, many camera shots are positioned to linger on his unrelenting stare, a gaze that feels as if he has the capability to condemn you to hell.
The film loiters on the precipice of what it means to sacrifice your own wellbeing and pleasure for your craft, but pulls back and never leans any further into it.
The Menu does bring into question ideas surrounding what it means to create great art, and how far one must go in order to please others. Whilst these points are pondered upon in a fantastic scene between Margot and Slowik in which they discuss their professions, the film makes little effort to justify the reasons for Slowik’s extreme methods and reasoning. This leaves the film feeling slightly shallow and poorly constructed in places, both attributes that aren’t helped by the lack of insight into the history of Slowik. Events play out in a stunning and shocking manner, but it all feels superficial and unexplored by the time credits roll; the film loiters on the precipice of what it means to sacrifice your own wellbeing and pleasure for your craft, but pulls back and never leans any further into it.
The unrelenting drive of the tense interactions between Slowik and the guests make for a gripping, and at times, exhausting viewing experience that offers enough black comedy and action sequences to tide you over. However, if you’re looking for more introspection into what it means to sacrifice yourself for your passion, you’ll most likely be left feeling undernourished.