‘The Menu’: Haute Cuisine takes on Privilege (REVIEW)

“Eat the rich” has become a mainstream battle cry against capitalism at protests as of late. As the socioeconomic scale continues to tip higher in favor of the wealthy, those in impoverished communities are left to bear the brunt of economic turmoil. Recently there have been many thrillers tackling the criticism of class struggle versus class benefits. We’ve had the likes of Ready or Not, Parasite, and Get Out. Now, a new dish of revenge is being served extra hot and cooked to perfection in Mark Mylod‘s dark comedy horror, The Menu, which is a thrilling picture that dares take on privilege issues.

Seth Reiss and Will Tracy wrote the screenplay, while Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, and Will Ferrell served as the film’s producers. The film stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Ralph Fiennes, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo. They all form groups ranging from food influencers to tech bros, food critics, one-percenters, and washed-up celebrities.

Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot in The Menu (COURTESY: 20th Century Studios)

We witness everything through the eyes of Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she accompanies Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) to a remote island as his date. We soon discover that Tyler was originally going to bring someone else with him. Instead, he was able to secure Margot as his latest seat-filler. Both find themselves as part of a group of exclusive clientele paired with an equally exclusive dining experience. It ultimately serves those that aren’t afraid to spend almost two grand on a meal. This is chump change for them, but not for Taylor-Joy’s Margot. We are as confused yet equally fascinated by the surprising grandeur of it all as her.

The remote island in question is home to Hawthorne, a prestigious restaurant run by celebrity chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). The guests explore the grounds with the guidance of Elsa (Hong Chau), who is phenomenal in the role. The restaurant lives off this island, guaranteeing every dish is chock full of fresh ingredients. The staff lives on the island as well, alongside Chef Slowik. They dedicate themselves to the rigorous routine Chef has created in the name of haute cuisine.

He presents every course with an explanation as to what inspired it. Slowly, the events grow even direr as the film progresses and secrets are exposed. Ultimately, what the Chef wishes for his audience to take away from the evening is that food has a purpose. It is not just nourishment of the body but also nourishment of the soul. The culinary arts have this title for a reason. Food preparation is capable of being art and worthy of being recognized as such. 

Judith Light as Anne, Reed Birney as Richard, Nicholas Hoult as Tyler, Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot, Paul Adelstein as Ted, Janet McTeer as Lillian, Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik, Rob Yang as Bryce, Aimee Carrero as Felicity, Arturo Castro as Soren, Mark St. Cyr as Dave, and John Leguizamo as Movie Star in The Menu (COURTESY: 20th Century Studios)

Hawthorne is as pretentious as it is fascinating in this shocking satire. Each course elevates the drama as tensions increase and a new horror sets in. Additionally, The Menu keeps you on your toes while offering more than just your basic thrilling confection. Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes create an electric dynamic that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. As well, Taylor-Joy shines, giving a new meaning to the final girl. She will definitely have you saying, “good for her.”

Like Ruben Östlund‘s Triangle of Sadness, The Menu peels back the curtain on the psychology of capitalistic-enabled behavior. However, unlike Triangle of Sadness, The Menu delivers its messaging in a more poignant and organized fashion. It adds a unique flair with humorous transitions thrown into the mix with spoofs of plated food like you’re watching an intense network food drama.

As tense as an elimination round, The Menu thrives on its astounding writing. Most importantly, it shines because of its stunning cast. The film is a true ensemble piece as it gracefully serves conscious socio-political criticism with a side of vengeance and a smile. And, as always, don’t forget to tip your waitstaff.

Rating: 10/10

The Menu had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2022. It is scheduled to be released in theaters on November 18, 2022.

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