Review by James Mahon
The Menu ( Mark Mylod, 2022), is a new addition to the canon of dark comedy movies taking aim at the pretension and egotism of the cultural and economic elite in our societies. The premise though, of using food as a means of underlining this, ensures that it possesses a somewhat original twist. However, despite the seemingly intriguing outline, the substance of the film turns out to be distinctly disappointing. It is a film that can be definitively categorised as mediocre, with a select few moments elevating it to the realm of slightly above average.
The essential plot is deceivingly simple in its explanation. Essentially, a varied group of culturally and economically distinguished figures –a food critic, a jaded film director and a smattering of multi-millionaires, arrive at a private island to experience the incredibly exclusive and rare food, at the much lauded Hawthorne restaurant, helmed by world class chef Julian Slowik ( Ralph Fiennes). From there, the film takes a tone of an intense psycho-drama, underpinned by a certainty that horror is never too far away.
There are elements of genuinely good film-making. The decision to structure the film on the basis of a food menu provides a coherent and fluent structure. Each interlude between a dish being served, allows Mylod to slowly reveal the true nature of each individual. Gradually stripping away their superficial artifice, unveiling their real character. Aesthetically, the film is undeniably satisfying. It has a visual sharpness and cleanness to it that compliments its genre identity as a dark comedy – complimented of course by Ralph Fiennes who always seems to embody these two qualities no matter what role he occupies.
Fiennes is, as usual excellent. He ably communicates the silent rage and unhinged mentality of Slowik, echoing Voldermort levels of villainy. Anya Taylor-Joy is similarly magnetic, the one character that the audience relates to whilst insanity takes place around her. Nicholas Holt embraces his comedic side, his fanboy antics of Slowik skilfully avoiding parody levels.
Nevertheless, the overarching message of the film leaves much to be desired. Added to Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (2022), The Menu joins the recent trend of film productions targeting the super-rich. Is this interesting at all though? We all know such people are generally composed of high levels of narcissism, vanity and intellectual bullshitness. Seeing it manifest on screen offers nothing particularly new or noteworthy – tell us something we don’t already know. We are already full to the brim with this topic ( pun very much intended)
Furthermore, from a slightly more grounded analytical perspective, as soon as the film diverges from its menu themed approach it loses the run of of itself – its previous fluidity replaced by disjointedness. Moreover, the script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, does little to earn the emotional scenes in the film, jarring with the overall satirical voice that is prominent for much of the picture.
Ultimately, The Menu is a film to distract yourself for an hour and a bit, and then soon forget you ever saw it.