The Menu Review
In Mark Mylod’s The Menu, we follow Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her rich companion (Nicholas Hoult) as they are ferried to an island for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience: a full-taster menu from the genius chef, Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). There is more to this menu than meets the eye, and the delightful evening quickly turns sour. More satire than horror, expect laughs rather than scares.
Regrettably, The Menu plays its hand a little too early. There is a point in the film after which you know the rest of its trajectory when the earlier tension dissipates and reforms into certainty. Once the full stakes are revealed, the intriguing set-up loses any aspect of initial horror. It instead careers into full-blown black comedy – it revels in its own absurdity, making it an enjoyable watch despite this loss of tension.
Particular fun is found in its pastiche of modern fine-dining television. A tongue-in-cheek reference to Chef’s Table reveals a particular inspiration. One stroke of parodic genius is the division of the film into each of the menu’s courses, showing us a rotating shot of the course with its title and ingredients, in the over-produced style of a Netflix cooking show. As the courses become more ridiculous, the titles and descriptions follow suit. Foodies and fans of reality television will have fun here.
The key performances from Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicholas Hoult are strong, despite the increasingly ridiculous writing. Taylor-Joy plays it straight as our unwilling protagonist, while Hoult gives a deliciously hammed-up portrayal of simpering food snobbery. Fiennes, as the chef-auteur, plays his role with a subtle sadness and rage, simmering just beneath the composed surface.
The cast manages well with the dialogue, even as the satirical target becomes tired. The constant parody of pretentious chef-speak itself becomes a little grating by the end of the runtime. While the subject is a fantastic subject for mockery, some of the targets feel a tad lazy, too easy. A brief discussion on the difficulties of service industry labour is not really developed further, and the ending message seems to confuse food made with ‘love’ with corporation food chains – a side of the food industry that is equally (if not more) exploitative of its workers. The horror inflection could have been used to further get at the violence of this exploitation.
This being said, you can’t help but laugh at the directions the satire takes. Regardless of its message and its lack of real bite, there are particular caricatures you will recognize, and set pieces that will get a good laugh. You certainly won’t be bored, and the constant contrast between the dining set-up and the insane situation leads to multiple well-hitting gags.
After looking into Mylod’s directorial background, with roots in a plethora of comedic productions, The Menu makes much more sense. With the satirist Adam Mckay (Don’t Look Up) and the comedic actor Will Ferrell also having roles in production, it is clear why the film leans more into satire rather than horror, despite the contrary framing of the trailer and advertising. However, without this horror element, the film feels lacking in drive. It is an entertaining vehicle for jokes, concepts, and sharp satirical portraits, but it is missing an engine.
In all, The Menu feels like it could be darker, more vicious, and more grotesque in its execution, considering the ripeness of its set-up. Despite this, Mark Mylod leans into his comedic background, bringing a superficial yet entertaining satire of fine-dining straight to our table.